“Hajj”, or journey to the holy places is the fifth pillar of Islam. It comes after the other obligatory rituals of the Muslim including the proclamation of faith, five prayers a day, zakat (giving alms to the poor) and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Unlike prayers and fasting which are obligatory for every Muslim man and woman regardless of their material possessions, the performance of hajj and zakat are wealth related. Muslim people must pay zakat only when they have achieved a certain status in their worldly possessions in terms of livestock, material or financial possessions. Hajj also becomes obligatory for the Muslim person when he or she can afford to pay their expenses on the hajj trip and secure enough provisions for their families to last until their return from the hajj journey.
This is why Islam has prescribed hajj as a ritual that has to be performed once in a lifetime for those who can afford it. In the old days, when the world's communication systems and material resources were limited, a person was lucky if he could afford to perform hajj once in his lifetime. It was rare to see someone who made the trip twice in a lifetime.
Being a rare event in the life of the Muslim had made the hajj pillar a much sought after ritual and the title of Hajji a well-earned and genuine honour.
In the old days, the hajj trip was a memorable event. As a child I remember someone who was seized by the hajj bug, to use a modern parlance, behaved differently. He was more virtuous in his behaviour, wore clean and mostly white clothes, became more charitable and kind to the downtrodden, abandoned most of his small vices and addictions, such as smoking, Qat chewing and meaningless socialising. He became more attached to the mosque, kept the company of religious scholars, strictly observed all prayers and other religious rituals and met all people with a cheerful face and a ready smile.
One conspicuous feature of the hajj-bound people was their soft-heartedness for they used to shed tears every time the name of Prophet Mohammed (PUH) was mentioned and every time they heard religious scholars talk about the rituals of hajj. The Ulema used to describe this as one's true and pure love for one's prophet and the holy places. In the old days, going to hajj was akin to falling in love. One had to be overtaken by the desire to be united with his beloved; in this case the holy mosques of Mecca, with the invitation of God. This overwhelming passion for and attitude towards the hajj was almost universal in the Islamic world as we can see in the following remarks of the 18th century Indian scholar Shah Waliullah:
Sometimes when a man is overcome with the desire for his Lord and love surges powerfully in his breast and he looks around for the satisfaction of his inner urge it appears to him that the hajj alone is the means to it.
There were some individuals in our village such as Hajji Abdillahi Buuni and Hajji Manati who made the hajj trip by walking on foot. They trekked across miles and miles of land, crossed mountains, valleys and endured sun, rain and harsh weather conditions to reach the Somali side of the Gulf of Aden. There they took a boat to the Yemeni side of the coast and then resumed walking through the lifeless mountains of Yemen and the Arabian desert to Mecca. They returned by the same route after performing the hajj.
Such people deserved the Hajji title with distinction. The life of these people became somewhat heroic, and people liked to hear their hajj journey story which always prompted religious men to quote the Koranic verse:
And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage (the Hajj). They will come unto thee on foot and also on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine that they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days over the beast of cattle that He hath bestowed upon them. (22: 27-29).
Most of the provisions these people possessed were foodstuff and a few coins but their best provision was their love for their God and their passion to fulfill their religious duties. Their insurance and their security was their taqwa (piety) as referred to in the holy Koran:
And take your provisions (for the journey of Hajj). Certainly the best of provisions is taqwa.
This article was first published on the Adwal News Network on January 10, 2006.
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