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Hajj: Origin and Significance

By Syed Abul Ala Maududi

Hajj, or the Pilgrimage, is the last among those acts of Worship, which Islam enjoins upon you. Like the prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, it mounds your life and prepares you so that you may live in surrender to Allah.
The word Hajj means to make a resolve to visit a holy place: Visiting the Ka’aba in Makka is therefore called Hajj.
The Origin of Hajj is rooted in the Prophet Ibrahim’s life, peace be on him. That story is instructive, and illustrative, too, of the true meaning and significance of Hajj. That story you must know to fully understand the benefits Hajj can bring to you.
Ibrahim was born in what is now Iraq, over four thousand years ago. At that time the people had forgotten the One God. No one recognized him as the Master, no one lived in surrender and obedience to Him. The people among whom Ibrahim was born, while the most advanced in the world in art and science, industry and agriculture, were also the most steeped in ignorance and error. One simple they despite their technological advance, could not understand: anything, which has itself been created cannot be worthy of worship. Idolatry was the norm. Superstitions like astrology, idol-worship, divination, Witchcraft and use of talisman and amulets were widespread.
A priest class controlled the class controlled the temples, supervised worship rites and rituals, conducted marriage and funeral ceremonies, and claimed to be oracles able to disclose the unknown, foretell the future, and determine Divine wishes. And the people, in general, believed that they indeed had such powers, that they access to their deities, that they could intercede with them on their behalf or invoke their wrath to fall upon them. For them the priests were the lords of their fate.
The kings were in collusion with the priests, the two sides working together to keep the people under servitude. They gave full backing to the priests, and the priests made people believe that the king of the day, as well as being the owner of his country and complete master of his subjects, was also a god among other gods. His word was absolute. Indeed, worship rites were performed for and before the king so that the belief in his godhood came to be entrenched in the minds of his subjects.
In times like this, the Prophet Ibrahim was born into a family of privileged priests. His forefathers were high priests and it was quite natural that he should follow in their footsteps. He received the same education and training; the same gifts and offerings were awaiting him. Many adherents were eagerly waiting for the moment when they could bow their heads before him with folded hands. The ancestral seat of priestly power could be his for the taking.
In his dismal darkness, where not a single soul existed who knew or believed in the Truth, it would not ordinary have been possible for a man like Ibrahim to find its light, nor break away from the little of comfort and power mapped out for him by his family.
After leaving his home, the Prophet Ibrahim wandered in Egypt, Palestine and Arabia. God, alone, knows what sufferings he went through on his journeys. He had no money or possessions nor did he have time to earn his livelihood. His sole vocation, day and night, was to bring people to the worship of the One God. If a man of such ideas could not be tolerated by his own father and his own community, how was he going to be any more successful elsewhere? Where would he be welcomed? Everywhere the same temple priests and kings claiming godhood held sway; everywhere the same confused and ignorant common men lived, who were completely hoodwinked by them. How could, then, Ibrahim live peacefully in such an environment? For, not only was he himself not ready to accept the godhood of anybody except God, but he was also committed to proclaiming to the people that none except Allah was their Master and Lord and that, therefore, they should ignore the authority of their leaders and demi-gods and submit only to the One Being. Thus condemned to a nomadic existence, wandering through Palestine, Egypt and the vast deserts of Arabia, he passed his whole adult life.
During the last period of his life, when he was eighty-six and had despaired of offspring, Allah gave him a child, Ismail. But even then, this loyal servant of Allah did not think that, having himself wrecked his own home life, he should at least prepare his children to earn their living.
It was in Makka that Ibrahim and his son built the Holy Ka’aba, the center of the Islamic movement, on a site chosen by Allah Himself. This building was not intended for worship only, as mosques are; its purpose was to act as the center for spreading the universal movement of Islam, a world-wide gathering point for believers in the One God to assemble to worship Allah in congregation and go back to their respective countries carrying with them the message of Islam. This was the assembly, which was named Hajj. Exactly how this center was constructed, with what hopes and prayers both father and son raised its walls, and how Hajj was initiated are described thus in the Quran:
Peace always reigned in and around the Ka’aba, when all around it were rampant plunder, murder, devastation, conflict, and warfare – such was its sanctity that even the Bedouins who respected no law, if they detected in its precincts the murderer of even their father, did not dare to touch him.
Look at Ibrahim’s prayers to find out what the real purpose and significance of Hajj is:
And when We made the House a place of visitation for mankind, and a sanctuary; take, then, the place whereon Ibrahim stood for place of prayer. And We commanded Ibrahim and Ismail, ‘Purify My House for those who will walk around it, and those who will abide therein in worship, and those who will bow down and prostate themselves.’ And when Ibrahim prayed: My Lord! Make this a land secure and provide its people fruits, such of them as believe in God and the Last Day…
And when Ibrahim was raising the foundations of the House, and Ismail, [they prayed]: Our Lord! Accept Thou this from us. Thou, Thou alone, art the All-hearing, the All-knowing. Our Lord! And make us surrender ourselves unto Thee, and out of our offspring make people surrender themselves unto Thee; and show us our rites of worship, and turn toward us; surely Thou alone truest, and art the Mercy-giving. Our Lord! Do Thou send to them a Messenger, from among them, who shall convey unto them Thy revelations, and teach them the Book and the Wisdom, and purify and develop them. Thou alone art the All-mighty, the All-wise! (Quran 2: 125-9).
And when Ibrahim prayed, My Lord! Make this land secure, and keep me and my sons away from worshipping idols. My Lord! They have led astray many people. Hence whoso follows me truly belongs to me; and whoso disobeys me – surely Thou art All-forgiving, Mercy-giving. Our Lord! I have settled some of my offspring in a valley where are no arable lands, near They sanctified House, our Lord, so that they may perform the Prayer, and Thou make peoples’ hearts to incline towards them, and provide them fruits so that they may be thankful (Quran 14: 35-7).
And when We assigned unto Ibrahim the place of the House [We said]: You shall not take any god beside Me, and purify My House for those who will walk around it and those who will stand, and those who will bow down and prostate themselves. And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage; and they will come unto you on foot and on every lean mount, they will come from every deep ravine, so that they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention God’s name during the days appointed over such heads of cattle He has provided them. Eat, then, thereof, and fee therewith the unfortunate poor (Quran 22: 26-8).
This is the story of the beginning of that Hajj which is the fifth pillar of Islam. You now understand that Makka was the headquarters for the mission of the first Prophet appointed to propagate the message of Islam. The Ka’aba was the focal point from where this preaching was spread across the world, and the worship rites of Hajj were introduced so that all those who chose to live in surrender to God alone should belong to one center where they could assemble every year, and go around it again and again. Their lives of faith were to be like the wheel tied to and revolving around its axle.Gentiles are invoked when movements talk of distributive justice and inequality.