Islamic Perspectives

Haj: An intense spiritual journey

 F. I. Choudhury

“Labbaik Allah hummalabbaik, Labbaik la sharikalakalabbaik…” (O my Lord, here I am at Your service, here I am…). This chant engulfs Mount Arafat as millions of Muslim brave the barren desert to perform Hajj, a great journey of faith. Hajj means to intend a journey and in Islam it means to set out on a journey for Kaa’ba, the first place of worship. Although Hajj is associated with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) since the 7th century, the rituals of pilgrimage to Makkah are thousands of years old, dating back to the time of Abraham (PBUH), the prophet to whom Christianity, Judaism, and Islam trace their roots.

The Holy Qur'an ordains, “And proclaim unto mankind the Hajj; they will come on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path” (Al-Hajj; 22:27).

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islamic faith and is mandatory for every Muslim who has the means. In the last month of the Hijri calendar, millions of Muslims descend upon Makkah to perform Hajj. In this five day spiritual journey, a pilgrim forgets every earthly pleasure and tries to get closer to the Almighty to repent for the sins he/ she had committed and earnestly seek forgiveness. It is not a pilgrimage to a place or to a person. Rather, it is a devotional journey of drawing oneself closer to Allah. It gives one an opportunity to relook into one’s past deeds and pledge a pious life in future. It serves as a reminder of the Judgment Day (Qayamat) when people will be answerable for their deeds before God.

The fifth day of Hajj is for sacrifice of permissible animals. This is not a ransom paid for sins. It is celebrated in commemoration of the spirit shown by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who, in obedience to the commandment of the Almighty, didn’t step back even for sacrificing his son. As Ibrahim was about to slit the throat of his son, a voice miraculously announced, “O Ibrahim, Thou has already fulfilled the dream’’ (37:104-105). As he looked upward, the angel Gabriel appeared with a ram to be sacrificed, as ordered by Allah, in place of his son Ismail. The holy Qur’an says sacrifice should not be for one’s own pleasure, but for the sake of God. God accepts the sacrifice even before a drop of the animal’s blood falls on the ground. “Their flesh and blood reach not Allah, but devotion from you reaches Him” (22:37).At the same time as the sacrifice is offered at Makkah, Muslims worldwide offer similar sacrifice, in a three-day global festival called Eid-ul-Adha. The intense spirituality at Hajj ends with sacrifice of one’s self in the name of Almighty. Performing Hajj is thus a pledge before the Almighty that one would lead a disciplined and pious life.

The author is Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India. He may be contacted at fi choudhury