The Abrahamic Hajj (6)
Welcome to the 5th episode of “The Abrahamic Hajj”.
The Annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy Ka’ba, God Almighty’s Symbolic House, is moving toward its climax these days, as pilgrims from all over the world pour in to Mecca to fulfill the rites which the One and Only Creator had commanded Prophet Abraham (PuH) to initiate and which, after being polluted by pagan Arabs over the subsequent centuries, were revived in their original monotheist form by the Last and Greatest Messenger, Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny).
Hajj in Arabic literally means ‘to set out for a place’. In Islamic terminology, it refers to the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to holy Mecca with the intention of performing certain religious rites in accordance with the method prescribed by Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). The Hajj and its rites were first performed by Prophet Adam at the dawn of creation. Centuries later, these rites were formally announced by Allah for mankind, in the time of Prophet Abraham (PuH), who, along with his firstborn son, Prophet Ishmael (PuH), was entrusted by the Almighty to rebuild the Ka’ba, after the extensive damage it had suffered during the Great Flood of the days of Prophet Noah. Allah has described the holy Ka’ba and its rebuilding as follows in ayah 127 of Surah al-Baqarah:
“As Abraham raised the foundations of the House with Ishmael, [they prayed]: ‘Our Lord, accept it from us! Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”
Further in ayah 26 of Surah Hajj, God informs us:
“When We settled for Abraham the site of the House [saying], Do not ascribe any partners to Me, and purify My House for those who go around it, and those who stand [in it for prayer], and those who bow and prostrate.”
After rebuilding the Ka’ba, Abraham returned to his first wife Sarah in Palestine, leaving behind in Mecca Hajar and her son, Ishmael. But he would frequently come to Mecca to perform Hajj every year, and after his death, this practice was continued by his son, as well as his second son Isaac, his descendants, and other prophets. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rites were distorted. As idolatry spread amongst the Arabs, the Ka’ba lost its purity and idols were placed inside it. Its walls became covered with poems and paintings, including one of Prophet Jesus and his mother, the Virgin Mary (peace upon them). Eventually over 360 idols came to be placed in and around the Ka’ba. In the days of Jahiliyya or ignorance, the atmosphere around the sacred precincts of the Ka’ba was like a circus during the Hajj period. Arab men and Arab women would go round the Ka’ba naked, arguing that they should present themselves before God in the same condition they were born. Their prayer became devoid of all sincere remembrance of God and was instead reduced to a series of hand clapping, whistling and the blowing of horns. All Hajj rituals were distorted.
For instance, the blood of the sacrificed animals was poured onto the walls of the Ka’ba and the flesh was hung from pillars around the Ka’ba. Singing, drinking, dancing, adultery and other acts of immorality were rife amongst the pagan pilgrims, while poetry competitions became a major part of the Hajj. In these competitions, poets would praise the bravery and splendour of their own tribesmen and tell exaggerated tales of the cowardice and miserliness of other tribes.
Thus the pagan Arabs had totally abandoned the teachings of Abraham the Iconoclast. The House that he had made pure for the worship of Allah Alone, had been totally desecrated by the pagan Arabs and the rites which he had established were completely distorted by them. This sad state of affairs continued for several centuries. Then, after this long period, the time came for the supplication of Abraham to be answered, as God says in ayah 129 of Surah al-Baqarah:
“‘Our Lord, raise amongst them a Prophet from among them, who should recite to them Your signs, and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. Indeed You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.’
Sure enough, in answer to Abraham’s prayer, Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) was raised in Mecca, as God informs us in ayah 2 of Surah Jum’ah:
“It is He Who sent to the unlettered [people] a Prophet from among themselves, to recite to them His signs, to purify them, and to teach them the Book and wisdom, and earlier they had indeed been in manifest error.”
For twenty-three years, the Prophet of Islam spread the message of monotheism – the same message that Abraham and all the other Prophets had preached by establishing the Law of God on earth. He expended every effort into making the Word of Allah supreme and his victory over falsehood culminated in the smashing of the idols inside the Ka’ba after Mecca surrendered to him in 8 AH. One of the chief idols atop the Ka’ba was pulled down by Imam Ali (AS), who was lifted by the Prophet on his shoulders to deliver the coup-de-grace to idolatry.
The House built by Adam at the dawn of creation and rebuilt by Abraham in antiquity, once again became the universal centre for the worshippers of the One and Only God. Not only did the Prophet rid the Ka’ba of all its impurities, but he also reinstated all the rites of Hajj which were established by Allah’s Permission, in the time of Abraham. Specific injunctions in the Qur’an were revealed in order to eliminate all the false rites which had become rampant in the pre-Islamic period. All indecent and shameful acts were strictly banned in Allah’s statement in ayah 197 of Surah al-Baqarah:
“The Hajj [season] is in months well-known; so whoever decides on Hajj [pilgrimage] therein, [should know that] there is to be no lewdness, vicious talk, or disputing during the Hajj.
In 9 AH, when Allah revealed the initial ayahs of Surah Towbah stating disavowal of disbelieves and putting end to their freewheeling ways, the Prophet sent his dear cousin, son-in-law, and vicegerent, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (PuH) to Mecca to proclaim the Divine Decree. On reaching Mecca, the Imam without fear of the Arab infidels, clarified the rules of the Hajj through practical demonstration, while performing the pilgrimage. For three days he continuously recited the opening ayahs of Surah Towba, and made it clear that neither the polytheists are allowed anymore to enter the sacred precincts of the Ka’ba, nor should anyone follow the freewheeling pagan practice of circumambulating the holy edifice naked and without clothes.
Competitions among poets in the exaltations of their forefathers and their tribesmen’s’ achievements were all stopped. Instead, Allah told them, as recorded in ayah 200 of Surah al-Baqarah:
“And when you finish your rites, then remember Allah as you would remember your fathers, or with a more ardent remembrance. Among the people there are those who say, ‘Our Lord, give us in this world,’ but for such there is no share in the Hereafter.”
Allah commanded that the slaughtering of the animals be done for Allah’s sake and to feed the poor, as is evident in ayah 36 of Surah Hajj:
“We have appointed for you the [sacrificial] camels as one of Allah’s sacraments. There is good for you in them. So mention the Name of Allah over them as they stand. And when they have fallen on their flanks, eat from them, and feed the self-contained needy and the mendicant. Thus have We disposed them for your benefit so that you may give thanks.
As for the deplorable practice of spattering blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of the Ka’ba and hanging their flesh on altars, Allah clearly informed them through the Prophet in ayah 37 of Surah Hajj that:
“It is not their flesh or their blood that reaches Allah. Rather it is your Godwariness that reaches Him. Thus has He disposed them for your benefit so that you may magnify Allah for His guiding you. And give good news to the virtuous.”
In this way, all the pre-Islamic practices, which were based in ignorance, were abolished and the Hajj was once more made a model of piety, purity, simplicity and austerity. Now, when the pilgrims reached the Ka’ba, they no longer found the carnivals and the frolic and frivolity that had once occupied the minds of the pilgrims there before. Now, there was the remembrance of Allah at every step and every action and every sacrifice was devoted to Him alone. It was this kind of Hajj that was worthy of the reward of paradise, as the Prophet has said:
“The reward for an accepted Hajj is nothing less than paradise.”