Monday, January 18, 2010

En Route to Mecca - Sense of Purpose

“For Hajj are the months well known. If anyone undertakes that duty therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling on the Hajj. And whatever good ye do (be sure) God Knoweth it. And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct. So fear Me, O ye that are wise.” (Surah Al-Baqarah: 197)

Despite being a less rigorous experience than it was in the past, Hajj is undertaken with the utmost conviction. Since the earliest days, communities have participated in this by offering prayers that seek the safe return of those on ‘Hajj Mabrur’ (a Hajj graced with Diving acceptance and pleasure).

The impact of this incomparable journey on the pilgrims begins as early as the preparation stage. Their whole disposition changes as the focus turns to gaining the approval of Allah. In order to achieve this goal, pilgrims have to rectify their relations with Allah and fellow Muslims. It is essential to repent for all sins, whatever the intention. At the same time, forgiveness is sought from family, relatives and friends for any misbehaviour.

Hajj cannot be undertaken in pursuit of material reward. The aim is Hajj itself, and the reward is Jannah Al-Firdaus (Paradise). As recorded by Al-Bukhari, the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) said, “The performance of Umrah is expiation for the sins committed between it and the previous ones. And the reward for Hajj Mabrur is nothing but Paradise.”

As with other types of accomplishment, Hajj Mabrur requires from the pilgrim continuous effort and prayer. For do’a (prayer) is the weapon of the believer, as mentioned in the Qur’an, “But your Sustainer says: ‘Call unto Me, (and) I shall respond to you’!” (Surah Al-Ghafir: 60)
Among the signs bestowed upon a pilgrim who has been granted Hajj Mabrur by Allah is becoming a new person. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Hajj plays a role in transforming the spiritual boundaries. Its appreciation leads to the betterment of the pilgrim’s mind and soul. Pondering its rites from different dimensions, Hajj alleviates weaknesses and drives the pilgrims to improve as a Muslim. The fulfilment of inner peace is manifested outwardly. Refraining from committing sins is also that an individual’s Hajj has been accepted by Allah.

Remembrance of Allah, combined with total submission and obedience to Him, does not end with the completion of Hajj rituals. After returning home, pilgrims have to maintain these observances in the same manner, constantly devoting themselves to Allah and being committed to the Sunnah of the prophet. They must also remain part of their community. Even before the time of the prophet Muhammad (bpuh), the title ‘Hajji’ was an honour given to male pilgrims, whilst Hajjah was the female equivalent. The expectations of those around them were high. Hajj pilgrims are required to set an example for others who are still waiting for their call. The Hajji and Hajjah find themselves frequently receiving guests who are yearning for the same experience. Hearing from those who have returned successfully adds to the resolve of aspiring pilgrims who yearn for contentment in the holy land of Mecca.

Hajj is unquestionably a migration. In fulfilling their potential as Muslims, pilgrims perpetuate the missions of all prophets, using inner struggle (jihad al-nafs) to dispossess the ego. The greatest challenge, however, is what comes next. When pilgrims return to their everyday lives, will they uphold the same standards that they observed during their hajj? Will those around them be shown sincerity, compassion, humanity, respect, integrity and forgiveness? The answer differs with every individual and their level of personal contemplation as well as the lessons learnt on this journey.


Although Hajj encourages sincerity in making sacrifices for the sake of Allah, it is not uncommon for Muslims to misunderstand the meaning and purpose behind the journey. At one extreme are pilgrims who relinquish everything that they own, selling their worldly property to fund the journey to Mecca. Such an interpretation can do irreparable harm to themselves and their dependants. For this reason, Hajj is only an obligation for those who are truly able to undertake the journey and to leave their family behind in an acceptable state.

Given that Hajj can remove pilgrims’ sins, it is important for Muslims to really understand the concept. Hajj is not an act of worship to replace any deficiencies in a pilgrim’s other obligations. Observance of all five pillars is required to build a strong structure and to complete a Muslim’s duties.

The intention among many Muslims is to wait until old age before carrying out the obligation of hajj. This can be dangerous. In fact, performing Hajj during younger years has an advantage, as the rituals demand physical and mental strength. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) encouraged those who have enough provisions to perform Hajj as soon as possible, since they may be unable to do so later.

While away from their daily routine, pilgrims should not seek luxurious accommodation, transportation or food. The Hajj undertaking is not a holiday. The best provision that pilgrims should take with them is taqwa (piety). The hardships that pilgrims encounter during their journey are part of the great lesson that is to be pondered.

Reflections on Art

Images of the Masjid Al-Haram, especially the Ka’bah, can be found in countries creative media. Embroidered on textiles, painted on canvas or woven into an exquisite carpet, the Ka’bah has been highlighted extensively. Runners painted with an image of the Ka’bah have also been used as coffin covers. These depictions can be souvenirs of hajj or a reminder that one day the beholder should be setting foot in the sacred land.

In a quite different medium, the Masjid Al-Haram is often found illuminating pages of the most celebrated manual of blessings and prayers upon the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh). The Dala’il Al-Khayrat is among the works of the famous Sufi Imam Al-Jazuli and depicts the masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina as well as the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca. On a larger scale are murals painted on the exterior walls of buildings, especially private houses of North Africa. These show, above all, an expression of longing for the House of Allah. Inspired by the stories found in the Qur’an, as well as the experiences of those who have undergone the Hajj journey, these paintings serve the same purpose as travel accounts.

In the hope that their experiences will benefit others, it is common to find that pilgrims out in writing an assortment of feelings, views and thoughts on every incident of their journey. Sometimes these can acquire a unique style of tjeir own, such as a 19th century account by an unknown pilgrim, composed in rhythmic poetry.

The pen is held and dipped in ink
The mouth recites and the hand inscribes
One night, the humble servant contemplates
Reflecting upon his fate
The small pen takes the ink
The poem is written as a lesson
Dear friends lend me your ears
I, the humble servant, have written verses about Mecca and Medina
I am stating simple facts
So as to excite the pious
About three-and-a-half months from Kedah
My ship sails across the seas
If the wind blows from behind
I will reach Jeddah, the peaceful day
Upon my arrival in Jeddah, my travels are delayed
This is where I shall go ashore
A Sheikh in Jeddah awaits and recollect
Where we shall come and get you
Dear friend, if there are pilgrims from Aceh
Have them return to Sheikh Muhammad Saleh
The pious and exalted
He is well versed and eloquent
Of others you have met
Bukasar, Melaka, Kelantan and Patani
In Rawah, Bangkahulu, Bentan adn betawi
Their Sheikhs have also received revelation
You have stayed in Jeddah for two nights
Now you will walk to Mecca
Rent a camel that is convenient for you
It is smaller than an elephant

Extracted from the book: En Route to Mecca – Pilgrims’ Voices Throughout the Centuries

Publisher: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

(This book is published in conjunction with the En Route to Mecca: Pilgrims’ Voices Throughout the Centuries exhibition, launched in October 2009.)

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