A deed of covenant with God and responsibility towards humanity
Hajj is a special journey to a special place at a special time. Its basic lexical meaning in Arabic is just a journey, but it is also defined as a venerated journey. This makes it different from all other journeys and destinations, like travel to make one’s living, or for pleasure or to seek power -- any worldly journey connected with necessities of survival and obtaining power, enjoyment or glory.
Hajj is a journey to abandon one’s worldly desires, to wake up from heedlessness, to correct one’s orientation after it has been disturbed or lost, so that with Hajj there is a journey towards the best goal, to the beginning of all beginnings, the highest meaning, the ultimate destination. For this reason, the Prophet’s hadith considers Hajj as a jihad, indeed the best jihad, because of the bodily fatigue and the effort exerted by the pilgrim’s soul and spiritual longing.
Hajj is considered a point at which external time stops and another kind of time begins: A time of communication, elevation, aspiration, and love of God. It is a time when human beings strive to regain their spirituality, their real nature and purify their life’s meaning from the poisons of deception, delusion, and decadence. This makes Hajj a new birth, a resurrection into a fresh human life, bursting with renewed vigour.
The Prophet Muhammad says in the Hadith: “Hajj wipes out [the sins] committed before it. Whoever performs the Hajj without indecent speech, misbehaviour, or quarrelling, will return as free from sin as on the day his mother gave birth to him.”
So Hajj is an act of renewal, a surge of life and return to one’s true self, just as it is a return to God, so that the soul regains its purity and clarity after it has been muddied with the sins of arrogance and haughtiness, and the filth of injustice and wrongdoing.
It is a worldly journey to the next life but also to correct life in this world and bring out the best it has. This makes Hajj go beyond the intentions of the individual believer in asking for forgiveness, rewards, and entry to Paradise. Rather it is a surge of life and human communication both on a moral and intellectual basis.
For this reason, the Qur’an did not address the obligation of Hajj to separate individuals but to all the believers. God states in the Qur’an: “Proclaim the Hajj to people and they will come to you . . . ” “believers, complete the Hajj and Umra to God” and that “Hajj to the house of God is an obligation for people.”
These plural addresses lead to the conviction that the goal of Hajj is not an individual or partial obligation, or a ritual that the individual performs alone; rather its goal is a universal, human gathering, an ethical and cooperative scenario that affects the whole human family. The Qur’an, for instance, makes a connection between Hajj and the benefits that come with it: “Proclaim the Pilgrimage to all people. They will come to you on foot and on every kind of swift mount, emerging from every deep mountain pass to attain benefits . . . ”
These benefits are seen as the fruits of Hajj, not confined to the material, partial or individual -- rather they go beyond this to what benefits all humanity, all kinds of benefits, in all interactions and renewed activities. Hajj presents us with a real human scene where people stand before God in their different races, colours, and classes. Their talbiyyah (chant of response to God) shows that their relationship with God is a deed of covenant and pledge, not one of divine choosing or favour or restriction.
It is a relationship of responsibility not merely one of personal benefit, a responsibility before God and towards His creation, an honest fulfilment of the contract. It is the same responsibility towards every human being to protect their lives, honour, humanity, and freedom.
The Qur’an makes a connection between Hajj and safety. God said that whoever entered the place where Ibrahim stood would be safe. Safety is the quality to which every individual in every society aspires. It is the first condition for true worship, which should be free from all forms of coercion. Individual motivation and strong desire are deep and free incentives to reach God.
Safety is a condition for the continuation and protection of humanity. It is the basis of human contact. It protects people from treachery and fear, and from any oppression by unjust authority. Indeed, safety is a precondition for human freedom, so that people can express their opinions and convictions without fear of consequences.
This shows that the Hajj is a conference for humanity, grounded in safety and peace. It is intended to create living interaction between the pilgrims and to be an annual meeting point where people discuss their affairs and issues freely, creating new visions, ideas, and strategies, away from any oppression or control, or even weakening of the function and the deeper and wider aims and objectives of the Hajj.
This makes safe Hajj an entry point for the Muslim to the space in which all forms of human contact move. It is the start of removing causes of boycotts and of misunderstandings. It removes all claims of extremism and false attributions of terrorism to Islam.
This makes us see the importance of applying shura (mutual consultation) to Hajj. Shura is a fundamental feature of the Muslim Umma. It is a background to Muslim communication, where they discuss issues in an open, free forum.
This makes the Hajj an occasion not only for performing the rites but an annual gathering to generate common convictions, crystallize understanding, and build policies around crucial issues, which affect the international situation and to benefit the rights of the Muslims. Hajj should be a space full of faith and mutual acceptance, so as to solve Muslim disputes, struggles, and contradictions.
Hajj is a scene of multiplicity seen as unity and unity seen as multiplicity. That is to say that Hajj is an event that carries possibilities far beyond mere individual performance of obligations.
It is capable of being utilized to make the Muslim Umma regain its character, position, and status, not only in the emotional sense but to regain a sense of integration, order and mutual support between its institutions and organizations. It is a state of effective presence which brings the Umma out of the condition of weakness lack of weight/status, and neglect on the part of world society of the interests of Muslim countries and the holiness of all they consider sacred.
This makes us recall, with great sadness, the issue of al-Quds/Jerusalem. We have never considered this to be the property of the Muslims, inasmuch as it is an oasis of human meeting and co-existence of everything holy.
It is a meeting point for plurality not a place of restrictions and distancing, but Jerusalem has become a victim of mad policies and neglect by the world, on the one hand, and, on the other, the failure, among those who believe in the issue of al-Quds, to adopt any common standpoint or effective policies, so that calculations of interest override the requirements of responsibility. The overall priority is dissipated in favour of parochial considerations.
We now deal with al-Quds as a purely political issue when in fact it represents, in our contemporary world, an ethical issue, which tests the credibility and fairness of the world in dealing with usurped rights. It is a symbol of intense holiness, turned into hostile selectiveness and distancing of others.
Perhaps the strongest call ever made during the Hajj is “God and His messenger renounce the idolaters.” This is not restricted to renouncing polytheism but includes renouncing the immoral behaviour which marked the conduct of the polytheist Quraysh. In this verse, at the beginning of Sura nine, renunciation is of the polytheists themselves, not of their polytheism alone, because of the baseness and immorality of their behaviour. This makes it renunciation of everything that lowers human values.
The battle of the Islamic message with the Quraysh was not so much a battle of faith as a battle with the ethical level to which Mecca had sunk before the Prophethood and the message of Islam. That level was succinctly described by Ja‘afar ibn Abi Talib to the king of Abyssinia when he said:
“We were people living in Jahiliya, worshipping idols and eating carrion, committing lewdness, severing our family relations, and harming our neighbours. The strong ate the weak. We were in that condition until God sent a messenger whose lineage, truth, honesty, and chastity we knew very well. He called us to worship God alone and renounce what we and our forefathers worshipped other than Him, in the form of stones, and idols. He commanded us to be truthful in our speaking, to repay what was entrusted to us, to keep good ties with our relations, be good to neighbours, refrain from forbidden things and from bloodshed. He forbade us lewdness and false testimony, consumption of the property of orphans, and slandering chaste women. He ordered us to worship God alone, not associating anything with Him. He commanded us to keep up the prayer, pay alms, and fast.”
The Islamic plan is to worship God alone, not in isolated places and dark corners but in the open space, which is filled with the existence of human beings created by God in His own image. This makes declaring the oneness of God set a course for continuous human improvement. It makes worship and obedience to God a way to elevate humanity to the highest position and most fruitful form of life. Declaring the oneness of God is a life-giving project for all humans, in accordance with God’s instruction: “Respond to God and His messenger when He calls you to what gives you life.”
“Giving life” means a resurgence of life energies and a banishment of all that leads to annihilation and sinking into decadence. Thus, everything that protects life and motivates people to maintain the requirements of honourable human living is among the aims and objectives of Tawhiid (declaring the oneness of God). This means that to work for Islam is to work for the benefit of humanity. Every religious legal obligation leads to the assumption of universal and all-inclusive characteristics, not in the sense adopted by extremists but in the sense of humanizing our legislation and our acts of worship so that their virtues are entrenched all over the world and their benefits distributed to all human beings, so that the rules of love and brotherhood between all human beings become manifest.
In this context, I renew the call I launched some 30 years ago, and have not ceased to repeat since then, the call to establish an international institute to achieve the universal goals and morals behind zakat and takaful (mutual insurance).
This is because we believe that the role of zakat will contribute effectively to ending the deprivations of poverty and raise humanity to a position of higher cooperation and a system of settled relationships, not only in the Muslim world but in the world at large.
Hajj is a form of human interaction that goes beyond natural and artificial barriers. We should beware of politicizing it, of narrowing its virtues or turning it into empty formalities. It is an annual forum for deep insights, of waking up from forgetfulness and from the infatuation of selfishness.
It is a chance for individuals to search deep inside themselves, a safe, free gathering for people coming from all parts of the world. It is a sign of an ancient covenant between God and His servants to renew their contract with Him and take on the trust of responsibility towards humanity.
El Hassan bin Talal is a member of the Jordanian royal family and is President of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies.