THE HIKMAH (WISDOM) OF THE HAJJ
- a Traditional Wisdom Series-
(by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks)
The Hajj comprises a number of Arkaan (integrals), Waajibaat (essentials), and Sunnahs (recommended acts). Before embarking on our Hajj these are the things that we have to learn. Unfortunately many of us tend to concentrate on these aspects alone and forget the underlying wisdom of the Hajj. The wisdom of this great ritual can only be appreciated after an understanding of the historical context in which it unfolded.
Allahu taaala says in the Quran:
"The first house of worship appointed for people was that at Bakka; full of blessing and as a guidance for the entire created order. In it are signs manifest: (for example), the station of Ibrahim." (3: 96-97)
The re-construction of this the first house of worship viz. the Kaba by Nabi Ibrahim (AS) and Nabi Ismail (AS) was preceded by a number of important events. Nabi Ibrahim lived during the rule of Nimrod who had claimed lordship over his people. Nabi Ibrahims rejection of his claim to lordship resulted in excessive persecution of his person. In addition to that he also rejected his own father, Azar, who was the chief idol maker. For this act of defiance a huge fire was prepared and he was thrown into it. But Allah protected him. When the fire had exhausted itself he was left unscathed for Allah had declared: "We said O fire be cool and safe for Ibrahim." (21: 69)
However, persistent persecution forced him to flee with his family to Makkah - a place untouched at the time by civilization. Here he settled his wife Haajir and infant child Ismail with some provisions. But on taking leave of them Haajir enquired whether his departure was at the command of Allah. He replied in the affirmative.
Her response was "If it is the command of Allah then you must do so". Ibrahim left. The provisions that he had given them were soon depleted. Her milk dried up. Her infant child started to cry. In desperation Haajir went in search of sustenance for her ailing child. In the wide expanse of the valley of Makkah, between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa, she pursued her frantic search for some sign, some hope, of life. Seven times she traversed this distance and was finally rewarded - through the agency of divine support - when she ascended Marwa for the fourth time. The gushing well of Zam-zam, close to the Kaba itself, was revealed to her. Hope of survival and renewal, indeed of life itself, pulsated in the sparkling waters of Zam-zam; not only for Nabi Ismail as we often read the story but also for Haajir herself. In the middle of a desolate landscape there was cause for celebration...
Many years later when Nabi Ibrahim returned to Makkah his return was marked, not so much by a celebration, but by a renewed call for further sacrifice. Separated from his wife and child for so long he was now called upon to perform the ultimate sacrifice the sacrificial slaughter of Nabi Ismail. The divine vision that instructed him to sacrifice his son was met by contentment to the Divine Will by all three. While the life of Zam-zam flowed for Haajir, the sacrificial blood of Nabi Ismail had to flow for Nabi Ibrahim. The hands that were raised in Duaa for a righteous child were now required to destroy that very life for which they were raised in the first place. The wishes, the desires, the longings, in short the wills, of these three great people meant nothing in the face of the demands of the Divine Will. The Quran, unmatched in its eloquence, is the best narrator of this story:
"He (Ibrahim) said: I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me. O my Lord grant me a righteous child.
So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear. Then when Ismail reached the age of maturity and competence Ibrahim said: O my son I see in a vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now consider, what is your view?
(Ismail) said: O my father, do as you are commanded to do. You will find me, if Allah wills, one steadfast and patient.
So when they had both submitted their wills to Allah and he had laid him down on his face for the sacrifice, We called out to him: O Ibrahim you have fulfilled the vision.
Indeed in this way do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a test. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice (of a ram). Then We left this blessing for him among generations to come in later times.
Peace and salutations upon Ibrahim.
In this manner do We reward those who do right. For he (Ibrahim) was one of our believing servants." (37: 99-111)
Behind the scenes of this awesome submission to the Divine Will lurked the arch-opponent of that Will viz. Iblis. His attempts at denigrating this apparently monstrous and irrational act and dissuading mother, father, and son from executing it spawned the ritual act of pelting the Jamaraat. Ibliss cunning attempts at opposing the Divine Will were met on the part of Nabi Ibrahim and Nabi Ismail by pelting a pelting not founded on lunatic extremism but on a clear understanding of Divine Purpose and Divine Vision; understandings which we, as Muslims, can ill afford to ignore. Up till today this act still stands as one of the most significant symbols of the rejection of all forms of perversity, whether of the human or satanic order.
Meanwhile the themes of sacrifice and commitment were to continue. This is evident when again, a number of years after the sacrificial incident, Nabi Ibrahim returned to visit his now married son. When he arrived in Makkah Nabi Ismail was out hunting and he had the occasion to meet his wife. Her hospitality was deplorable. She complained profusely about the littleness of their means.
Nabi Ibrahims response to her was: "When Ismail returns tell him to change the threshold of his door."
When he returned she related the message to him. He immediately understood that the intention of his father was that he should separate from her. Which he did.
Nabi Ismail remarried and when Nabi Ibrahim returned for another visit he was out on an errand again. This time he met a woman who was satisfied with her lot and one who protected the integrity and honour of Nabi Ismail.
On this occasion his message to her was: "When Ismail returns tell him to protect and preserve the threshold of his door."
In this way, as we observe the story unfolding, we witness the conditions in fulfilment of one of the chief purposes of the mission of Nabi Ibrahim coming to fruition. And that mission was to build the Kaba. If, as the Quran says with respect to the first Masjid - called Masjid ud-Taqwa - built by Nabi Muhammad (SAW), that "It was laid from the first day on piety (Taqwa): (and is therefore) more worthy of your standing forth in prayer therein." (9: 108), then it is equally important that the first house of worship, the Kaba, had to be built on a similar foundation of Taqwa. This foundation was eminently represented in the persons of Nabi Ibrahim, Nabi Ismail, and their wives. The foundations for this house were further reinforced by their long and arduous journey in making known the essentially Divine Purpose of all life on earth. From Nabi Ibrahims opposition to human perversity in the form of Nimrod, to his opposition to satanic perversity in the form of Iblis, to their remarkable submission to the Divine Will of Allah, the Kaba - built by their hands - stands as an outstanding symbol of the victory of faith against the worst of odds. Whether those odds, we need hardly say, emanate from the material or supramaterial order. The Kaba too, as the centre of our worship in both forms of Salaah and Tawaaf, also represents for us the Taweed (or Unity) of Allah. But given the context of the story of Nabi Ibrahim and his family there can be little doubt that the Tawheed of Allah cannot be separated from the wisdom behind their struggle to liberate humanity through the "guidance" that it signifies - the "guidance" referred to in the verse initially quoted: "The first house of worship appointed for people was that at Bakka; full of blessing and as a guidance for the entire created order..."
It is to this guidance that Allah ordered Nabi Ibrahim to invite the Hujjaaj when Allah said: "And proclaim the pilgrimage among people: they will come to you on foot and mounted on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways. That they may witness the benefits provided for them, and celebrate the name of Allah through the days appointed..." (22: 27-8).
As Hujjaaj who are beneficiaries of the prayers and struggles of Nabi Ibrahim and who are determined to undertake our own personal journey of liberation, we owe it to ourselves to focus on and acquire at least a semblance of the guidance offered by this sacred journey. Perhaps then, too, we might also be beneficiaries of the "blessings" of Haj...
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks
1 January 1999
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