Hajj: A Universal Message of Unity

Hajj: A Universal Message of Unity

Islam promotes brotherhood and equality

“What’s up bro?” A common phrase heard today, but one which has a deep sense of responsibility in an Islamic culture. The reason is that Muslims, those who follow Islam as an entire way of life, try to follow all that the Qur’an teaches, and this is one of its major teachings:

The believers are but brothers. (Al-Hujurat 49:10)

Many countries, schools, and organizations coin phrases like “united we stand”, and “strength in unity”, but it’s rare to see or experience unity in these institutions. As stated by R. L. Mellema, a Dutch anthropologist, writer, and scholar:

The doctrine of brotherhood of Islam extends to all human beings, no matter what color, race, or creed. Islam is the only religion which has been able to realize this doctrine in practice. Muslims, wherever in the world they are, will recognize each other as brothers.

Unity as explained by the Online Merriam-Webster dictionary is (1) a condition of harmony (2) a totality of related parts.

Muslims follow these meanings in their entirety, as they are advised by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to be like one body, when one part of it is hurt, the whole body aches. This is why Muslims in Alaska would feel sad and pray for Muslims whose families died when a boat overturned in Asia.

Why is unity important for a community and for individuals?

Extensive research in the field of psychology has made several connections between depression, suicide, and community. According to popular statistics in America, white male Protestants are more likely to commit suicide than Asian males. This is mainly due to the fact that Asians are more of a community-based people, whereas white Americans stress heavily on individualism.

The phrase, “No man is an island,” by John Donne, sums up a great deal in few words. In this, Donne does not only mean humans are interdependent for their basic physical or material needs like food and clothing, but humans are unable to work to their potential alone, as they acquire motivation from others around.

“Where there is unity there is always victory.” Publilius Syrus, a Roman author, 1st century B.C.

Unity, and especially religious unity, has played an important part in shaping civilizations and continues to play a pivotal role in shaping societies. Many great empires disintegrated due to disparity amongst their people. All nations invest in advertising the unity of the country. China is a good example of achieving great heights due to national unity. But yet they have ethnic groups that are ill-treated and do not feel to be part of this great nation.

 

Brotherhood & Equality

“Islam replaced monkishness by manliness. It gives hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind, and recognition of the fundamental facts of human nature.” (Taylor 171-172)

Looking back at the history of Islam right from its advent, one realizes that many Muslim rulers have made great effort to preserve unity and equality amongst their citizens, regardless of their religion, race, or region.

If we look at what most of the Western narrators have to say about Prophet Muhammad’s achievements, the one that stands out above all is his ability to unite not only the Arabs, but all the people of Mecca, Medinah, and the surrounding areas.

Of course Muslims believe that this was all possible due to the will of God. At the time of the Prophet, the Arabs were divided, warring factions, who were brought together as one force. The ideologies of Islam pertaining to equality and brotherhood convinced the various tribes.

“The extinction of race consciousness between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.” (Toynbee 205)

One should identify that Islam is not only for Muslims; it is for all humanity. Almighty Allah tells us that He created Adam and Eve and made all humans their descendants. This gives all mankind a common start, a roadway on the journey that leads to unity. It makes one realize that colors, tribes, nations, and ethnicity came later — due to expansion and immigration. But, eventually, we are all children of Adam, and hence all one.

This is far from the teachings of Darwin’s theory, where existence depends on the survival of the fittest. Sadly, people who agree with it become individualistic and divided. Muslims reject this theory and can hence strengthen their bonds further.

The noble Qur’an then narrows down the uniting factor to include the people of the three monotheistic religions — Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. It does this by referring to all of them as People of the Book.

According to Islam, Allah sent prophets, as warners and guides, to every nation. A few of these prophets are considered to be specially important, and whose accounts are related in more details, namely Abraham (regarded as the father of the three monotheistic religions by most historians), Moses, Jesus, David, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

The latter four were provided scriptures and laws by Allah. And hence in this way, Jews and Christians are recognized as People of the Book in the Qur’an and Islamic traditions. Also, all these faiths await the coming of a Messiah, which is declared in their respective religious books.

Eventually the broad scope of the equality and brotherhood in Islam is extended to all Muslims. One of the chief uniting factors for Muslims is found in the testimony of faith, which every Muslim should utter sincerely and wholeheartedly: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.

This highlights two factors. Foremost, there is only One God, Allah; He is the ultimate unity. Every Muslim prays, beseeches, and bows down to the same One God. We are all united in this thought and action. Furthermore, it provides all Muslims with one teacher. All Muslims, no matter what name they give their sects, have the same One God, Allah, and the same leader, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is the highest form of unity in Islam.

Moving a step further, there is only one book that every Muslim is prescribed to read, recite, and understand: the Qur’an. From Japan to Hawaii, the Qur’an is every Muslim’s comprehensive guide, which Muslims believe was sent down by the one God above.

No matter what their language is, the recitation of the Qur’an is always done in Arabic. Many people read translations of the meanings of the Qur’an in their native tongue to comprehend what the illustrious book explains, but when they recite it, it’s always in one language, Arabic. Because of this, many people who are unaware of Islam think it is an Arab religion, whereas most Muslims are non-Arabs.

Islam is an entire way of life. Each person tries to embody it to the best of their abilities. But Islam has five pillars, which are five requirements a Muslim must complete or fulfill.

First: The aforementioned testimony that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger.

Second: Performing five Prayers a day.

Third: Annually paying a certain paltry percentage of savings towards charity.

Fourth: Fasting the month of Ramadan.

Fifth: Performing Hajj to Mecca (the sacred city located in modern-day Saudi Arabia).

 

Worship That Unites

Hajj, as mentioned above, is one of the five tenets of Islam. It is obligatory upon every able-bodied and financially capable Muslim at least once in a life-time. Approximately three million people from 160 different countries unite for a period of 10 days every year. One can say that there are literally people from every corner of the world in the region of Mecca and Medinah during the Hajj season.

Hajj is declared by all experts to be the most diverse gathering in the world. Yet all the people there are united in their actions and goals. Each person performs the same procedures to complete their Hajj. All the people dress alike, men are to wear two pieces of unstitched white cloth and women wear cloaks or simple gowns and a headscarf.

In fact, several groups have identifiers — arm-bands, headbands, and so on — to make it easier for each group to stay together. This way one can spot one’s relatives and friends amongst the waves of people.

For the people at Hajj, consumerism and worldliness are farthest from daily thought; whereas spirituality and good-will are powerfully present. This spiritually bonds the people to a level above daily life. Hence the fervor and brotherhood seen at Hajj is hard to even glimpse in everyday life.

There are several accounts where people have said they were old or sick and helped through the crowds by total strangers. It is not uncommon to see young sons carrying their elders on their backs and walking miles.

Malcom X, the African American Muslim minister and human rights activist, changed some of his views after performing Hajj. He had never imagined, let alone seen so many different colors with no distinctions. He truly realized that there is no discrimination in Islam, whether towards the blacks or whites, as he mentioned in one of his speeches after his return:

I am a Muslim and my religion makes me be against all forms of racism. It keeps me from judging any man by the color of his skin.

This unity and brotherhood is one of the major attractions of Islam. Many seekers of truth have come to Islam starting with their interactions with Muslims who acted like brothers.

On such unequalled brotherhood, Colonel Donald S. Rockwell, an American Muslim convert, said:

The universal brotherhood of Islam, regardless of race, politics, color, or country, has been brought home to me most keenly many times in my life – and this is another feature which drew me towards the Faith.

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This article has been taken with slight modifications from onislam.net.

 

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The Fifth Pillar of Islam: Hajj

The Fifth Pillar of Islam: Hajj

 

The Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah) is the fifth of the fundamental Muslim practices and institutions known as the five pillars of Islam.  Pilgrimage is not undertaken in Islam to the shrines of saints, to monasteries for help from holy men, or to sights where miracles are supposed to have occurred, even though we may see many Muslims do this.

Pilgrimage is made to the Ka`bah, found in the sacred city of Makkah in Saudi ِArabia, the ‘House of God,’ whose sanctity rests in that the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) built it for the worship of God.  God rewarded him by attributing the House to himself, in essence honoring it, and by making it the devotional epicenter which all Muslims face when offering the prayers (salah).  The rites of pilgrimage are performed today exactly as did by Abraham, and after him by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Pilgrimage is viewed as a particularly meritorious activity.  Pilgrimage serves as a penance – the ultimate forgiveness for sins, devotion, and intense spirituality.  The pilgrimage to Mecca, the most sacred city in Islam, is required of all physically and financially able Muslims once in their life.

The pilgrimage rite begins a few months after Ramadan, on the 8th day of the last month of the Islamic year of Dhul-Hijjah, and ends on the 13th day.  Mecca is the center towards which the Muslims converge once a year, meet and refresh in themselves the faith that all Muslims are equal and deserve the love and sympathy of others, irrespective of their race or ethnic origin.  The racial harmony fostered by Hajj is perhaps best captured by Malcolm X on his historic pilgrimage:

‘Every one of the thousands at the airport, about to leave for Jidda, was dressed this way.  You could be a king or a peasant and no one would know.  Some powerful personages, who were discreetly pointed out to me, had on the same thing I had on.  Once thus dressed, we all had begun intermittently calling out “Labbayka! (Allahumma) Labbayka!” (At your service, O Lord!)

Packed in the plane were white, black, brown, red, and yellow people, blue eyes and blond hair, and my kinky red hair – all together, brothers!  All honoring the same God, all in turn giving equal honor to each other . . .

That is when I first began to reappraise the ‘white man’. It was when I first began to perceive that ‘white man’, as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions.  In America, ‘white man’ meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men.  But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been.  That morning was the start of a radical alteration in my whole outlook about ‘white’ men.

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world.  They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.  America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.

Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white – but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam.  I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”

Thus the pilgrimage unites the Muslims of the world into one international fraternity.  More than two million persons perform the Hajj each year, and the rite serves as a unifying force in Islam by bringing followers of diverse backgrounds together in worship.  In some Muslim societies, once a believer has made the pilgrimage, he is often labeled with the title ‘hajji’ ; this, however, is a cultural, rather than religious custom.

Finally, the Hajj is a manifestation of the belief in the unity of God – all the pilgrims worship and obey the commands of the One God.

At certain stations on the caravan routes to Makkah, or when the pilgrim passes the point nearest to those stations, the pilgrim enters the state of purity known as ihram. In this state, the certain ‘normal’ actions of the day and night become impermissible for the pilgrims, such as covering the head, clipping the fingernails, and wearing normal clothing in regards to men. Males remove their clothing and don the garments specific to this state of ihram,  two white seamless sheets that are wrapped around the body.

All this increases the reverence and sanctity of the pilgrimage, the city of Makkah, and month of Dhul-Hijjah. There are 5 stations, one on the coastal plains northwest of Mecca towards Egypt and one south towards Yemen, while three lie north or eastwards towards Medina, Iraq and al-Najd.  The simple garb signifies the equality of all humanity in God’s sight, and the removal of all worldly affections.

After entering the state of ihram, the pilgrim proceeds to Makkah and awaits the start of the Hajj.  On the 7th of Dhu al-Hijjah the pilgrim is reminded of his duties, and at the commence of the ritual, which takes place between the 8th and the 12th days of the month, the pilgrim visits the holy places outside Makkah – `Arafah, Muzdalifah, and Mina – and sacrifices an animal in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice.

The pilgrim then shortens or shaves their head, and, after throwing seven stones at specific pillars at Mina on three or four successive days, and heads for the central mosque where he walks seven times around the sacred sanctuary, or Ka`bah, in the Great Mosque, and ambulates, walking and running, seven times between the two small hills of Mt. Safaa and Mt. Marwah.  Discussing the historical or spiritual significance of each rite is beyond the scope of this introductory article.

Apart from Hajj, the “minor pilgrimage” or `Umrah is undertaken by Muslims during the rest of the year.  Performing the `Umrah does not fulfill the obligation of Hajj.  It is similar to the major and obligatory Islamic Pilgrimage (Hajj), and pilgrims have the choice of performing the `Umrah separately or in combination with the Hajj.

As in the Hajj, the pilgrim begins the `Umrah by assuming the state of ihram.  They enter Mecca and circle the sacred shrine of the Kaaba seven times.  He may then touch the Black Stone, if he can, pray behind the Maqam Ibrahim, drink the holy water of the Zamzam spring.  The ambulation between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times and the shortening or shaving of the head complete the `Umrah.

 

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The Rituals of Hajj by E-Da`wah Committee

The Rituals of Hajj by E-Da`wah Committee

Hajj is the journey of life-time. If conducted properly, it will erase all sins of the pilgrim. So, every Muslim intending to undertake this journey should first learn well its rituals and how to perform them correctly. Watch this video for detailed information on all aspects of Hajj.

 

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