Home Articles and Notes General The Hajj and Spirituality by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

The Hajj and Spirituality by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

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The hajj, typified by the sanctified state of ihram, acts as a sacred rehearsal for our return to Allah on the Day of Resurrection (Qiyamah).

This consecrated state of ihram, like the motif of milk in the Mi’raj (The Sacred Night Journey), stands as one of the ultimate symbols of the fitra­ ‐ the original, primordial purity of the human being. Moreover, the two white sheets for men, one wrapped around the lower torso and the other covering the chest and left shoulder; and the plain white dresses worn by women, act as reminders of the shrouds within which they will be laid to rest at death. Death, however, does not represent a nihilistic state of absolute nothingness or non-existence in Islam. It merely marks a gateway to a higher order of reality. Death is merely an altered state of being ‐ a creation, like life itself, that will declare the spiritual station one has achieved during this earthly sojourn. Says Allah in the Qur’an: “Blessed be He in Whose hands lie the Dominion and Power over all things; He Who created Death and Life to test those who are the best in deeds...” (67:1).

The ihram establishes four important conditions:

First is the understanding that the recognition of the essential equality of all people in the eyes of Allah is a precondition for our spiritual and moral growth and progress. The first moral crime committed in our sacred history is that of an arrogance rooted in racism. When Iblis refused to bow to the Prophet Adam (as) he retorted: “I am better than he. You created me from fire and him from clay.” (Qur’an, 7: 12). To this Allah responded: “Then depart from this abode. It is not for you to display arrogance here. Depart! For you are the most contemptible of creatures.” (Qur’an, 7:13). Excessive pride and arrogance in one’s origins must stand as one of the darkest veils between the heart and spiritual illumination. Arrogance (takabbur) in general prevents the soul from reflecting the light of the Spirit into the darkness of the heart. As it is with the Salat al‐Khusuf (The Prayer of the Lunar Eclipse) we have to stand and pray until the darkness departs.

Second is humility. Humility is a virtue of the ‘Ibad ar-Rahman (the servants of Allah the Merciful). Says Allah: “And the servants of Allah are those who walk with humility on the earth, and when the ignorant confront them, they say ‘Peace!’” (Qur’an, 25: 63). The virtue of humility infused with dignity is not only a key to sacred knowledge but also an entry point to the realisation of other virtues such as sabr (patience and endurance), hilm (clemency) tasamuh (tolerance) and ihtiram (respect).Without humility the nafs (self) remains recalcitrant and fractious. A lack of humility is not only a veil but a poison to the soul ‐ incrementally defiling it the more it battles and seeks to assert itself in society. Differently put, a lack of humility masquerading as religiosity is nothing other than a deceptive and illusory self‐righteousness. The ihram, as a symbol of pure fitra, is designed to remove the spiritual taint of the nafs and to restore the soul to an equilibrium of uprightness – an uprightness that both recognises and realises the need for human decency, respect for the dignity of others and that the potential for spiritual progress and absolute equality constitutes integral aspects of the Divine Dispensation. To ignore this is to disown His Mercy.

Thirdly, Islam is a religion which, on the one hand, encourages simplicity and, on other, eschews ostentation. It is a religion that encourages a life free from pretentiousness, deceit and guile. The Qur’an beckons us to both listen to and understand the first Primordial Covenant between Allah and humankind. Says the Qur’an: “When your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam , from their loins, their descendants; and had them testify regarding themselves ‐ ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They replied (as one): ‘Indeed we testify!’ This (covenant) is so lest you say on the Day of Judgement: ‘Of this we were unaware’” (Qur’an, 7: 172).

Understanding the Lordship of Allah, His Rububiyyah ‐ which is Allah in His aspect of nurturing, educating and nourishing – is what leads to a life of unpretentious simplicity, decency and sincerity. This latter condition constitutes the very fabric from which a life of deep and conscious spirituality is woven. And we need to listen to this message as the Qur’an instructs: “And when the Recital is read, listen to it silently that you may be blessed with mercy.” (7: 204). [Italics mine]. It is in the silences of the heart that we come to understand things.

And finally, it is in this state of sincerity, of unpretentiousness, of humility and total commitment to the Majesty (Jalal) and Beauty (Jamal) of Allah that we proceed to proclaim the liturgical oration of Labbayk Allah humma labbayk. La sharika laka labbayk. Inn al‐Hamda wa n‐Ni’mata laka wa l-Mulk la Sharika lak (I am at Your service O Allah, I am at Your service. Indeed, I am at Your service. None can compare with You).

Together, beneath the resounding chants of labbayk ‐ proclaiming and pledging our service to Allah ‐ we need to listen with silence and humility to the celestial call of Allah beckoning us to enter His service as a chosen guest of His. For beyond the labbayk lie the awe-inspiring symbols of sacrifice and struggle, of mercy and clemency, and of Divine assistance for those who refuse to despair of the Mercy of Allah. Realms upon realms of inspiration lie in wait for those who have the humility and the generosity of heart to magnify the sacred symbols (sha’a’ir) of the hajj and to take home and share the wisdom and spiritual lessons learnt from them.

The first act on entering Makkah is to circle the Ka’ba. The last act before departing from Makkah is, likewise, a tawaf. For those with hearts receptive and sensitive to the sacred there is a sense of the Majesty, of the sheer awe of Allah in performing the seven cycles of that first tawaf. It is in this spirit of awe and with a sense of the Majesty of Allah that the rest of the manasik (rites) of the hajj and the sha’a’ir are encountered and experienced. Fittingly the hajj concludes with another tawaf ‐ the Tawaf al-Wida’(The Farewell Circumambulation). They mark the closure of two spiritual circles of perfection.

The experience here, however, is different. Instead of awe and majesty, it is the experience of a lover leaving his/her beloved. There is a bitter-sweet sadness that accompanies this act. But leave one must, for all sacred signs and symbols of this world are ephemeral. And so it is required not to tarry too long when departing. The only gesture required is to look once more at the Ka’ba before exiting with the prayer that one is granted another chance to undertake this odyssean spiritual journey of love, mercy and peace; and a with a new understanding of the deeper meanings of unity in the ummah. For it is as an ummah (with all its feminine connotations) that we need to rediscover ourselves in the womb of an elevated and spiritualised togetherness, with all connected to the spiritual umbilical cord of the Mother of all ‐ Sayyidatina Hawa (as).

For those who choose to sever themselves from this cord, theirs will be an exteriorised life of a delusional self-righteousness ‐ a self‐righteousness that threatens to wreak more destruction in the name of Islam than any blundering mammoth could in a meadow of daffodils. On the other hand, for those who choose to remain attached, theirs will be an experience of an interiorised piety and spirituality that will not only rend the veils of delusion and darkness between themselves and Allah, but will also cast illuminative streams of light in the here‐and‐now that may well act as pathways to the womb of this ummah. Theirs will be a direction and a guidance that will allow them to both experience and benefit from the powerfully transformative virtues of love, mercy and compassion that lie at the very heart of this womb.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book "A Concise Companion to the Hajj"

 

Last Updated on Monday, 11 April 2011 12:15  
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