At least five times a day, all practicing Muslims on earth turn their attention to God in prayer. When doing so, they physically align all throughout the planet, forming circles around the globe, facing Makkah.
At least five times a day, the Ka’bah inside the Al-Haram Mosque forms the center, the magnetic north so to speak, of the Islamic community. But (at least) once in the lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is in good health, a pilgrimage takes place where the Ka’bah is not only the direction but also the destination.
A pilgrimage consists of theological, physical and psychological challenges. Therefore, preparation is the key.
Many books have been written – all thanks be to God – regarding the rules and regulations of hajj. It will explain the dos and don’ts from a theological perspective. Based on the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it will teach you the basic acts of worship, the rules of the state of ihram, and the advised or mandatory supplications to perform your hajj.
Besides all these more than important and timeless religious advice, there are some contemporary points of consideration we, as Muslims, should consider before making hajj. If you intent to make hajj this year or know someone who will do so – God willing – you might want to take a minute for these three advices that you may or may not have read somewhere else.
Don’t Follow People
“He who innovates something in this matter of ours that is not of it will have it rejected.” (Al-Bukhari)
This is a common memorized saying of the Prophet Muhammad regarding all acts of worship which are part of Islam. Basically, if an act of worship has no origin in the Quran or the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, it should not be performed nor followed.
Now, in general, this advice is not unique. In everyday situations, most Muslims are aware of some of the innovations performed by the people who live in their immediate surroundings and know how to deal with this. But while going on hajj for the first time, being in ihram for the first time, making circumambulation around the ka’bah for the first time, it is easy to fall into doubt. When you see hundreds of people performing a certain act, you could be tempted to follow. Hundreds or maybe thousands of people can’t be wrong, right?
Nowhere on earth will you see and experience so many innovations in our religion as during hajj. As Muslims from every different school of fiqh or even every sect will come together with other people who may have never read a book (on Islam) at all and they are all walking in front of you, besides you and behind you. Therefore, don’t follow the people as you will copy their innovations, but follow sound knowledge. This is an advice for every Muslim for every day of his/her life, I know, but you should be extra careful during hajj as innovations are all around and your regular group of peers are not.
Don’t Do Too Many Voluntary Acts of Worship
Did you ever hear this as an advice?
Not to do too many voluntary acts of worship?!
We all know that there is so much extra rewards for prayers in (the direct area of) the Haram Mosque in Makkah. So why would a pilgrim not do as many voluntary prayers as he or she can perform? Why not make voluntary night prayers every night, standing near the Ka’bah, seeking God’s reward?
My advice is based on my personal experience and a matter of priorities. I’ve seen pilgrims arrive to the city of Makkah and immediately starting to perform voluntary – non-obligatory – deeds of worship. You have travelled for hours, sometimes more than a day, to get there.
Your first sight of the Ka’bah is an intense emotional happening. You will not sleep in your own bed but suddenly with 3 or maybe 5 others in a room. You may have to adapt to temperature, moisture and food which are all different from the place you come from. All of this costs a lot of energy and physical condition. And now you are about to abandon your regular 8 hours sleep at night or moments of rest during the day for voluntary acts of worship.
If this is the case, you are taking an enormous risk. A few days later, the hajj rites will commence. You will need to go to Mina and sleep there, make supplications all day at Mount Arafah, spend the night at Muzdalifah. All of these are the mandatory obligations. These acts of worship are the reason you came to Makkah in the first place.
I have seen people whom, with the best and most sincere intentions, wore themselves off as soon as they entered Makkah, only to collapse during hajj. They succeeded in their voluntary acts of worship, only to fail to perform the obligations of hajj at all or at least in the correct manner.
Yes, please do as many voluntary acts of worship as you can, but do it after you have fulfilled your obligations. And then, do as much as you possibly can!
And of course, this advice might not apply for everyone. If someone is strong, in good conditions and used to travel, do as much as you can do. But if this is your first hajj and you are inexperienced in these circumstances, don’t overestimate the things that you are capable of. Maintain strict sleeping times, rest as much as you can, prepare for the obligations of hajj and succeed. Believe me, you don’t want to fall asleep near Mount Arafah; if you do, you will be sorry for the rest of your life.
Understand the Implications of a Sincere Intention
When going to hajj, we all state our intentions explicitly. We pronounce the talbiyah, saying: “Here I am at Your service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Your service and You have no partners. To You alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and You alone are The Sovereignty. You have no partners.”
By saying this, we confirm our sincerity of making hajj for God alone, not because we seek the acceptance or contentment of any human being, not even ourselves.
When making hajj, please understand the implications of this sincere intention. It means that even if we do not find the contentment of others, or even ourselves, this should not have any influence to the way we value our hajj.
You may find yourself in situations with others that are very unpleasant, you may find yourself in arguments even though you try to avoid this, you may find yourself in dirty places, you may find that Makkah is not the heaven on earth you might have expected it to be.
Don’t believe anybody who says hajj means patience while they didn’t make hajj, but do not doubt anybody who has made hajj and tells you that hajj means patience.
Whatever struggle you might find yourself in, maybe with others maybe with yourself, remind yourself of your intention. You are not here for their pleasure, you are not even here for your own pleasure. You are here to perform hajj for God, seeking His acceptance and His contentment alone. So keep your head up, keep your focus, keep your intention sincere and keep going.
May Allah make it easy for you to gather the funds to make hajj and to stay in good health.
May Allah make the travel light, the guidance clear, your intention sincere and may Allah reward you for it, in this life and the hereafter.