To the righteous Muslim who has never gone for hajj, the aspiration to embark upon this once-in-a-lifetime journey manifests itself in their psyche as the ultimate “dream come true.”
This journey involves repenting for all their past wrongdoings, becoming closer to Allah, turning over a completely new leaf, and resolving to acquire a higher level of piety for the remainder of their life.
For those who have had the honor of performing hajj, especially after having studied their Deen in-depth, however, the journey along with all of its unique rituals takes on an entirely different identity: that of an unforgettable spiritual and emotional experience that teaches them innumerable invaluable lessons in sincerity (ikhlas), humility, submission to Allah, and forbearance.
Hajj is the only obligatory duty in Islam that involves communal worship, viz. in which all the rituals and rites have to be performed along with hundreds of thousands of other Muslims – in the same time and space, over a period of the same 5 days.
The performance of hajj has been restricted to a few, specific geographical sites for the entire ummah, which means that – whatever their political, ethnic, and cultural differences might be back in their homelands during the rest of the year – this smaller ‘ummah’ of pilgrims has to repeatedly come together, at the same places, at the same times, to do the same things, if they want to fulfill their obligation of performing this foundational pillar of Islam.
Because of this, the journey of hajj imparts pilgrims an unforgettable annual lesson in peace and unity that is scarcely available anywhere else throughout the rest of the year.
The State of Ihram: An Aura of Calm Self-Restraint
When a pilgrim enters the state of ihram for hajj, they do not just put on a specific set of garments that are the same as the other pilgrims: rather, they enter a state of forced self-restraint, politeness, calmness, and forbearance in dealing with all their brethren in Islam for the next few days.
By doing away with varieties in clothing, especially for male pilgrims, the state of ihram abolishes their mutual differences related to social class, prestige, and economic status. Ihram unifies all pilgrims as slaves in front of Allah who are toiling on the same noble journey.
Secondly, the fact that all kinds of arguing, wrangling, fighting, and even hunting halal game is impermissible in the state of ihram (2:197), it causes the descent of an aura of complete peace upon the massive population of pilgrims who are performing hajj.
Once again, this peace and self-restraint is a unique, one-of-a-kind state that is not found anywhere else in the Muslim ummah during the rest of the year, even during Ramadan.
Not only are they united in how they look, what they wear, and how they are worshipping their Lord during these precious few days of peace, they are also united in a communal state of peacefulness that is utterly and totally free from even a small glimpse or flicker of commotion, fighting, rallying, protests, strife, discord or dissension.
There are no arms, weaponry or ammunition in sight within the magnanimous annual populace of millions of pilgrims, and yet, despite the current political and ethnic differences that exist in the ummah, and cause chronic strife, not a single pilgrim who comes for hajj gets hurt, injured or killed during the journey – except by unintentional accident!
Together for One Cause: All Differences Set Aside
“No, we do not combine prayers even whilst traveling. We follow the fiqh of so-and-so.”
“The mufti qualified from the largest Darul Uloom (Islamic university) back in our country gave us his opinion about this matter, so we will follow only his advice.”
“We consider eating crabs and lobsters impermissible according to our fiqh.”
“We adhere strictly to the opinions of so-and-so regarding the methodology of doing da’wah to non-Muslims.”
Whether the women of their group wear flowing black chadors or light-colored denim overcoats; whether they choose to cast votes during elections in their local democracies, or campaign actively for the revival of the khilafah; whether they pray salah at their campuses and offices with their shoes on or off; whether they prostrate on soft prayer rugs or plates of dried clay; whether they promote the cause of women’s emancipation and education, or believe in keeping women restricted strictly within the walls of the home; whether they habitually eat on a table-spread laid out on the floor, or on polished wooden dining tables…
When pilgrims from different backgrounds and cultures come to perform hajj in Saudi Arabia, they use more or less the same facilities as the others in their group as well as those beyond it: makeshift toilets, packaged food, rolled-up bedding, and tented accommodations. They all have luggage with them. They all eat, sleep, and worship more or less at the same time.
And they all silently and readily agree – as if on cue from their Lord above – to set aside their political, ideological, religious, and jurisprudential differences for the entire duration of the sacred hajj sojourn.
A follower of the Hanafi fiqh prays next to one who follows the Shafi fiqh, and doesn’t raise his hands before or after the ritual bowing (rukoo’), yet the brother by his side does. And both remain mutually respectful about it. There are no arguments or confrontations.
As they converge together upon the plain of Arafat, all pilgrims pray four units of salah behind one imam, and seek forgiveness henceforth till sundown from one God, Allah.
No divisions, no differences. One purpose, one place, one nation.
The Days of Mina: Opportunity for Outreach
Pilgrims have to spend all their nights in their tents at Mina from their arrival there on 8th of Dhul Hijjah, till their departure on the 12th or 13th. They can benefit from availing all their free time to get to know one another during their stay in the tented city, especially once they have performed all the main rites of the 10th day of Dhul Hijjah.
This is the day of Eid Al Adha for the rest of the Muslims around the world, in which pilgrims perform several rites, such as the shaving of heads (for men), taking a ritual bath (ghusl), putting on fresh (stitched) clothes, having their animals slaughtered, and finally, performing the main circumambulation of the ka’bah i.e. the obligatory Tawaf al Ifadah.
Modern day Mina is a tented, open-air zone of comfort and peace. The uniformly structured, air-conditioned and carpeted tents are arranged in an organized manner, with carefully named and numbered zones and streets. Food vendors and toilets are available near each tent.
Once the pilgrims are done with the Tawaf al ifadah, all that remains of rituals for them to do during their remaining stay at Mina, is to perform the stoning of pillars (jamraat) on a daily basis. This task can be delegated to mahram men, by the women, children and the elderly who cannot walk to stone the jamraat each day. This means that most pilgrims have ample free time to socialize and talk to each other throughout their 4-5 day stay at Mina.
How can pilgrims capitalize on their stay in Mina in order to promote better mutual understanding, unity, peace and respect?
Well, for one thing, they should avoid snapping or blowing their fuse whenever something done by their brethren really bothers or irritates them.
Since I have performed hajj, I can give a few small examples of this, e.g. a sister loses her bag of medicines due to the negligence of her companion. A brother has trouble napping or sleeping soundly because the ‘uncle’ on the bed next to him constantly snores, and the one on the other side keeps talking loudly on his phone. A sister’s nap is disturbed when another steps heavily on her foot whilst sprinting across the tent.
The short stay at Mina can test everyone’s nerves and patience, because it is a state of bare-basics traveling peppered with the performance of time-bound hajj rituals. The ages, physical abilities, personalities, habits, and varying backgrounds of the pilgrims in each tent transform the otherwise desolate city of Mina into a wonderful melting pot of diversity.
The best way to unite and make peace with pilgrim brethren is to tolerate anything negative that happens with patience and kindness and to seek out every opportunity to help relieve the problems and distress of those pilgrims who need help.
The days at Mina can also be spent in giving short Islamic talks and explaining portions of the Quran to one’s companions in the tent.
Even when language is a barrier, a smile, helping hand, and polite manners go a long way in bridging the gaps.