I have never been to Hajj.
I have heard amazing stories of rebirth of faith and I have heard horror stories of corruption from people who have completed this pillar of Islam.
The thought of hajj awakens extreme feelings in me. Mostly terrifying feelings.
When I reflect on these feelings of anxiety and fear, I come to the conclusion that at the root of my fear is a distrust of my fellow brothers and sisters–a deeply sad realization.
This year during hajj, my fears were only confirmed when on 24 September, an overcrowding situation caused at least a thousand people to suffocate and be crushed to death while leaving many, many more injured. By all accounts it was the deadliest stampede so far in this century.
But it makes me wonder how pilgrims on a sacred journey can create such horrifying outcomes. Isn’t this the exact opposite of what is supposed to occur during hajj?
Was it something that was completely unavoidable? Did people have a choice not to push and crowd? Did authorities fail in some way? Or was it something else altogether?
I want to believe that it was not an act that was man-made. But I have seen it all too often in Eid prayers, at iftars, or just lining up for prayer-people pushing and shoving to get where they want to be with little regard for manners or their brethren. I have also seen the lack of direction by leaders cause chaos and confusion.
I have heard of communities getting into fist fights and splitting because some people are pushing to attain power for the sake of power. I have seen organizations ripped apart because everyone wants their own way and shouting the loudest becomes more important than cooperation. I have seen corruption and lack of manners all too often in the ummah. The tragedy at hajj seems to highlight this defect.
We’ve all learned good manners and correct behavior as children in school and at home. But somehow we lose sight of manners and morals as adults or even think it is a naive way to act in today’s dog eat dog world. But each day when we join together with our families in our homes or with our community in our mosques, we are demonstrating that we can act with manners and have order if only in prayer.
In congregation prayer, Muslims are acting as individuals and a unit at once. If we just take a look at how this is achieved, we can translate this team exercise found in prayer into order in our everyday lives and order in our organizations to create good manners and unity.
One Direction (No, not the Band)
Imagine if everyone prayed in a different direction.
Billions of Muslims turn their faces towards to the direction of the Ka’bah five times a day. This directionality is known as the qiblah, a direction that is one, singular, reminding us that there is one God, we are one ummah and that we are all on the same path back to Him.
If we remember this directionality and goal-oriented thinking in our communities and organizations, we can have better unity. Instead we often can only see the small picture and lose sight of the direction in which we should all be travelling, toward Allah, seeking His pleasure, in worship of Him alone as one community. This kind of distraction from our ultimate goal as an ummah is like praying in congregation and getting distracted by a bug, following behind it, and forgetting that you are in prayer.
The well-known hadith:
“Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed.”
The Prophet was asked:
“It is right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?”
“By preventing him from oppressing others,” (Al-Bukhari)
Help your brother face the right direction in the path to Allah and in prayer, insuring that we keep each other on track, and doing so with kindness. (more about recommending with manners here.)
Time, a Non-Renewable Resource
Imagine if everyone came to prayer at the mosques whenever they pleased.
As Muslims, we keep our eye on the clock, never losing track of the time, so that we can perform our prayers in their appropriate times. The mosque sets a time for each of the five daily prayers for those who wish to pray in congregation. And for the most part, we understand the importance of punctuality in prayer. Praying a prayer outside of its time limit it is not acceptable. Coming to congregational prayer late means you will have missed it.
But when it comes to other areas of our lives and in the organizations within our communities, we tend to forget the importance of punctuality. Time is a non-renewable resource and we never know how much of it we have, but we do know it is coming to an end for each of us.
Being foolish with time or making others wait for you is like knowing there is a drought coming, so you turn your faucet on and let it all go down the drain. Being perpetually late sends the message that we are not only ungrateful to Allah for the time He has given us, we are also headless about stealing someone else’s time.
But we can correct this bad behavior and lack of consideration for others by applying our punctuality for prayer to all engagements, knowing that everyone’s time is precious, and never wasting a drop of time.
Everyone Wants to Lead
Imagine if everyone in the lines to pray was fighting to lead.
As Muslims when we pray in congregation, we know when to bow in prayer because the imam bows. We know when to prostrate when the imam of the prayer prostrates. We only know to stand when the one leading the prayer does so. We understand the importance of unity in following the leader in our prayer.
But when it comes to all other activities, we all try to lead. We have a very human tendency to want to be on top without knowing that a good leader is really just a servant to his or her people. The leadership role is not for self-glorification or to attain power. Those who are most aware of this know that to be a good leader you must inspire love in your followers and love your followers in return.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is our example in all things. He was the best in manners and the best in leadership. He said:
“The best of leaders among you are those whom you love and who love you in return. They pray for you and you pray for them.” (Muslim)
We cannot all lead, we cannot all be like the Prophet Muhammad was in his leadership role. Most of us are not capable of being humble when given power, me included. We need to find good leaders who try their best to emulate the Prophet’s example, understanding that leadership is a heavy responsibility. And then we can look to our prayer to teach us how to be better supporters instead of always jockeying for a leadership role.
One of the biggest problems in our ummah is that we do not have solidarity. We are constantly trampling over one another, either literally or metaphorically. This is a great tragedy and can even be seen at the most fundamental levels of our organizations and communities.
We can take a lesson from our prayer to turn this division into unity by always trying to move toward the same goals; keeping on track in or schedules; and respecting a good leader.