There was a lot I was told about hajj before I performed mine for the first time in my life.
I was told that it was physically very tasking; that it involved practicing and displaying a tremendous amount of patience; that it was filled with hardship and fatigue.
On a more positive note, I was also inspired by hearing several amazing hajj stories describing the spiritual epiphanies and incidents of selfless helpfulness that pilgrims encountered time and again during their sojourn in Saudi Arabia.
After performing my own hajj in 2006, I came to realize that many people come away only with memories of the physical rites and rituals of the journey, without having grasped the moral lessons and spiritual discipline that it imparts to the pilgrims.
Consequently, I believe that the intentions that pilgrims harbor before they embark on hajj and the perception they have of the journey before he or she commences it, are the key factors that influence what inspiration and guidance they will bring away from it inside their hearts and souls, once the 5-day set of rituals is over and they are back home.
The sacred journey of hajj is an extremely fulfilling one that imparts a pilgrim lifelong lessons and poignant memories, the effect of which stay in their lives long after the echo of “labaik allahumma labaik” has faded from their ears.
Who Goes for Hajj?
In order to better understand the solutions to problems faced by the Ummah that are offered by the annual pilgrimage in Islam, we can first talk upon whom it is obligatory to perform in the first place:
Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah,- those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures. (Al-Imran 3:97)
The Arabic words in the above verse of the Quran, which are translated as, “those who can afford the journey”, indicate that hajj is only obligatory upon those Muslims who can financially afford the journey, and who are physically able to do it. That is, health-wise, they are strong and able to travel to Arabia and perform all its rites. It is also obligatory only once in a lifetime.
This conditional obligation of hajj automatically absolves the very young, poor, ill, old and weak Muslims of the Ummah from performing it.
Hajj: Social Training in Tolerance, Compassion, Empathy and Patience
Sharing bedrooms with several other people during hotel stays. Praying next to a different Muslim from around the world in every prayer. Having to share your blanket, pillow or medicine kit with another pilgrim in Mina, Arafah or Muzdalifah. Having to use toilets that are also used by hundreds of others. Camping in tents on hard asphalt under the open sky…
Hajj imparts tough lessons in humility, tolerance, and compassion, because it forces a person to give up their airs and all aspects of elitism viz. “high maintenance” behavior, and spend five days living a lifestyle that is at par with that of the common man, whether you like it or not.
Since wrangling and arguing is disallowed in the state of ihram, no matter how much pilgrims might feel their patience tested, they cannot lose their temper or snap at a fellow pilgrim, e.g. others might use your shoes without your permission, or disturb your deep sleep by loudly banging the door, or snore so loudly that you cannot sleep in the first place.
Someone might insensitively step on your shoulder to get ahead in the rows of the masjid as you wait for prayer. Your baggage and/or money might get stolen or lost during the journey, which can cause you to lose your peace of mind. You might fall severely sick (a bad cough is the classic hajj ailment), or get lost in the crowds, isolated for days from your hajj group without any belongings,- all these things can test your patience to its limit.
Some of these situations happen with most pilgrims on a day-to-day basis during hajj, yet God doesn’t allow them to fight, argue or insult another pilgrim, no matter what hardship or difficulty they might encounter.
Clothed in the same two pieces of cloth whilst traveling from one site to another, with no personal bedroom or clean toilet and hardly any privacy; having to eat simple food whilst sitting on sidewalks or stone floors; having to travel whilst standing in buses or sitting squashed inside cars that are cramped with other pilgrims; and having to perform ablution with a single bottle of water that is shared with other pilgrims, forces a Muslim to observe extremely high levels of tolerance and patience with their ethnically diverse and innumerable brethren in faith throughout the hajj journey.
The result of this once-in-a-lifetime training in social empathy and fortitude, is that a Muslim learns to appreciate the innumerable blessings and freedoms that he or she possesses back home, and to share every aspect of their self and their personal ‘space’ with people who are hitherto strangers; most of whom he will probably never even see again for the rest of his life!
The grueling lessons in social forbearance taught by hajj truly last a lifetime.
This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.