Hajj a return to centre and origin of Islam


JAVED AKBAR
OPINION

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Despite the chaos and turmoil in Iraq, pilgrims from
around the world are descending on neighbouring Mecca
for the annual peace conference, the hajj.

Mecca, the Kaaba (the black-draped cube) and the
precincts of the holy city are associated with Islam's
sacred history based on the chain of monotheistic
prophets. 

Muslims believe the Kaaba was originally built by Adam
and rebuilt by the great patriarch of monotheism,
Abraham, and his son Ishmael.

Abraham made the first pilgrimage with Ishmael and
performed all the rituals which constitute the rites
of the hajj today. Abiding by a divine commandment, he
established a rite, which was later revived by Prophet
Muhammad. 

Hajj has since become an inseparable reality of Mecca
and its profound meaning to Muslims. To go to Mecca,
in Saudi Arabia, is to return to the birthplace and
the focal point of Islam, by virtue of its housing the
Kaaba, towards which all Muslims turn in their daily
ritual prayers. Standing in the centre of the Grand
Mosque, the Kaaba itself has never been an object of
worship, but rather has represented a holy sanctuary.

Peace is the central theme of the hajj: peace with
oneself, with fellow human beings, with the
environment, even with the tiniest creatures.

To violate this precept is to defy the very spirit of
the hajj. Chanting and glorifying God, one feels
fortunate while entering Islam's holiest city, in a
barren valley walled by harsh and rugged hills.

Entering through the "Gate of Peace" during my hajj a
few years ago, my eyes fell on the Kaaba  majestic,
awesome, towering over a sea of humanity surrounding
it. It is not possible to erase from memory the first
sight of this concrete symbol of the origin of all
monotheistic religions.

I was breathless in awe and expectation, overwhelmed
by the grandeur.

I stared at this centrepiece of the Grand Mosque, the
50-foot-high cube draped in black, embroidered with
Qur'anic verses in gold thread. 

The reaction of the people around me ranged from
dazed, trembling and sobbing to simply being
speechless.

Upon entering the Grand Mosque, the pilgrims must
circle the Kaaba seven times. Amid the sea of
humanity, one gains a glimpse of the reality that the
essential human divide, the one that matters before
God, consists in one's inner purity and spiritual
character.

It is only in the realm of creation that such
diversities as race, colour, gender and culture, which
are God's own design, seem to carry some weight for
some people.

Then there is the brisk walk between the two hillocks
 Safa and Marwah  celebrating the hurried walk of
Hajar and her son Ishmael in search of water, which
appeared miraculously in the form of the spring of
Zamzam.

Pilgrims refresh themselves with the water of Zamzam,
the purest form of water that heals the body and the
soul and is brought back and distributed to friends
and family as a blessing.

It is one of the most precious gifts one could bring
back home to family and friends.

The grand assembly in the plains of Arafat, where
multitudes of believers bow towards Mecca and offer
profound supplications for forgiveness of sins and the
well-being of others, symbolizes the Day of Judgment
when all people will stand before God with their deeds
in this world as their only possession.

Despite all the technological advancements in
communications, the hajj remains, first and foremost,
what it has always been, a return to our centre and
origin.

It is a rehearsal for purposeful living. It invokes a
profound sentiment of justice, benevolence and
compassion towards God's creation  the true spirit of
hajj. 

Such was Abraham's life when he fulfilled the divine
mission more than 4,000 years ago. 

During hajj, a pilgrim symbolically revives and
repeats the historic life events of Prophets Abraham
and Ishmael. 

This grand assembly at one place, drawn from a vast
array of nationalities, races and colours, yet with a
remarkable unity of heart and purpose, harmony of
thought and feeling, is the greatest gift of Islam to
the Children of Adam.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Javed Akbar is director of outreach at Pickering
Islamic Centre.








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