The final pillar and one of the finest institutions of Islam is the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. The performance of the Hajj is obligatory, at least once in a lifetime, upon every Muslim, male or female, who is mentally, financially and physically fit. The Muslim who is of responsible age, in fairly good health, and is financially capable and secure must make the Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. The financial security here means that he should have enough to cover his own expenses and those of his dependents, and to pay his debts, if he is in debt, until he completes the course of Hajj.
The course of Hajj is another unique characteristic of Islam, it is enjoined by God to serve many purposes among which are the following:
1. It is the largest annual convention of Faith where Muslims meet to know one another, study their common affairs and promote their general welfare. It is also the greatest regular conference of peace known in the history of mankind. In the course of Hajj peace is the dominant theme; peace with God and one’s soul, peace with one another and with animals, peace with birds and even with insects. To disturb the peace of anyone or any creatures in any shape or form is strictly prohibited.
2. It is a wholesome demonstration of the universality of Islam and the brotherhood and equality of the Muslims. From all walks of life, from all trades and classes, and from every corner of the globe the Muslims assemble at Mecca in response to the call of God. They dress in the same simple way, observe the same regulations, utter the same supplications at the same time in the same way, for the same end. There is no royalty, but loyalty of all to God. There is no aristocracy, but humility and devotion.
3. It is to confirm the commitment of the Muslims to God and their readiness to forsake the material interests in His service.
4. It is to acquaint the pilgrims with the spiritual and historical environment of Prophet Muhammad, so that they may derive warm inspirations and strengthen their Faith.
5. It is to commemorate the Divine rituals observed by Abraham and Ishmael (Ibraheem and Isma’eel), who are known to have been the first pilgrims to the first house of God on earth, i.e., the Ka’bah at Mecca (Makkah).
6. It is a reminder of the Grand Assembly on the day of Judgement when people will stand equal before God, waiting for their Final Destiny, and where no superiority of race or stock can be claimed. It is also a reminder of the fact that Mecca alone, in the whole existing world, was honored by God in being the center of monotheism since the time of Abraham, and that it will continue to be the center of Islam, the religion of pure monotheism, till the end of time.
In the performance of Hajj it can easily be observed that it is a course of spiritual enrichment and moral rearmament, a course of intensified devotion and disciplinary experience, a course of humanitarian interests and inspiring knowledge – all put together in one single institution of Islam.
The description of the rules and steps followed during the Hajj are rather lengthy. They will not be discussed here. For further details the reader may consult the elaborate works on the subject. However, it should be pointed out that during the whole course of Hajj there are informed guides always available to help the pilgrims with right instructions.
It should also be pointed out that the entire course of devotion is to God alone. The Muslims go to Mecca in glory of God, not to kiss a stone or worship a man or a semi-divinity. Kissing or touching the Black Stone at the Ka’bah is an optional action, not an obligation or a prescription. Those who kiss the Black Stone or touch it do not do it because they have faith in the Stone or attribute any superstitious qualities to it. Their Faith is in God only. They kiss or touch or point to the Stone only as a token of respect or a symbol of love for Prophet Muhammad, who laid the Stone at the foundation of the Ka’bah when it was reconstructed. That event has a special significance. It depicts Muhammad as a man designated for peace. When the Ka’bah was under reconstruction, some years before the advent of Islam, the Black Stone was to be laid at its foundation. The tribal chieftains had a quarrelsome dispute over him who was to have the honor of restoring the Stone. This was a very serious matter and the shadows of civil war hung over the holy place. The Stone was held in especially high reverence by the chieftains, although it was nothing more than a piece of stone. This reverence may be attributed to the fact that the Stone was connected with Prophet Abraham, the Great Grandfather of the Arabs, and that it was, perhaps, the only solid stone remaining from the antique structure of the Sacred Edifice. Be that as it may, the Stone as such has no significance whatsoever as far as Islam and the Muslims are concerned.
When the chieftains failed to settle the dispute among themselves, they agreed to let the first incomer decide the issue. Muhammad was the first incomer. He then decided to wrap up the Stone in a piece of cloth and asked the disputants to hold it together and restore it in such a way that each chieftain would have had a part in the operation. They were happy with his wise decision and put it into effect immediately. Thus the issue died out and peace was maintained. This is the moral of the story of the Black Stone. So when the pilgrims kiss the Stone or point at it with reverence, they do so in remembrance of Muhammad, the wise peace-maker. The point may become clearer by comparison. It is a natural thing for a good patriot returning from exile, or a fighting soldier coming back from the battlefield to do certain things upon reaching the borders of his beloved homeland. For example, he may kiss the ground at the borders, or embrace with deep emotions the first few compatriots he meets, or show admiration for some landmarks. This is considered normal and appreciable, but no one would think that the patriot or the soldier worships the ground or deifies his fellow compatriots or attributes some Divine qualities to the landmarks. The behavior of the pilgrims should be interpreted in a similar way. The Ka’bah at Mecca is the spiritual center of Islam and the spiritual homeland of every Muslim. When the pilgrim reaches Mecca his feelings would be like those of a patriot coming home from exile or a triumphant soldier returning from a decisive battle. This is not a figurative interpretation. It corresponds with the facts of history. The early Muslims were expelled out of their home and forced to live in exile for years. They were denied the right to worship in the Ka’bah, the most sacred house of God in existence. When they returned from exile, the Ka’bah was their main destination. They joyfully entered the Sacred Shrine, destroyed all the idols and images that were there, and completed the rites of pilgrimage.
This interpretation is enlightened by some unusual experiences of extraordinary people. For example, a famous Hungarian writer fled his invaded country and took with him a handful of earth. Literary annals tell that the writer found his greatest comfort and deepest joy in that handful of earth. It was his source of inspiration and symbol of hope that he would return to a free homeland at last. (I read this account during the fifties and very much to my regret, cannot locate the exact source or remember the writer’s name).
Similarly, a documentary called “The Palestinians” was prepared by CBS and televized on Saturday June 15, 1974. In it, a wealthy businessman, who fled the Zionist terror in Palestine, was interviewed at his extremely fashionable home in Beirut. When he was reminded of his good fortune in exile he smiled, pointing to a small bottle half-full of earth. To make his point, he added that he brought it with him from Jerusalem when he fled; that it is more valuable to him than anything he possesses; and that he would give up all his possessions to return to Palestine, his homeland. What is more significant about this interview is that the man’s family was more emphatic and expressed stronger feelings. It will not be at all surprising if it turns out that this man represents many others like him and if that small “earth treasure” becomes a very special, even a sacred, thing in the years to come.
In a more tangible sense, the Associated Press reported on October 14, 1973, that “the Last Israeli strong points on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal surrendered … and 37 tired and bedraggled Israeli troops were paddled in dinghies across the waterway to captivity. … Some of the Egyptian troops, carried away with the emotion of finally liberating this last stronghold (the Bar-Lev line), grabbed handfuls of sand and put it in their mouths. Others kissed the ground.” (Dispatch Observer, p. 2A)
More recently, the same news agency, reporting on the returning Syrian prisoners of war, said that the first man off the plane “sat upright on a stretcher on the stumps of his amputated legs . . . ‘Legs are nothing. We are ready to give our soul . . .’ he shouted. He then insisted on being lifted from his stretcher and placed on the ground so that he could bend down to kiss the soil.” ( Dispatch Observer, June 2, 1974, p. 3A).
It is in this human perspective that the Black Stone story should be viewed. And it is in the light of such human experiences under extraordinary circumstances that it is best understood.
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