Al-hajj: a Spiritual Journey from Prophet Ibrahim to Saladin

Al-Hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah is one of the central religious duties of Muslims and is enshrined in the Qur’an. "And call upon the people for Hajj. They will come to you on their bare feet or riding any weak camel and they come to you from every far desert." [Qur’an 22:27]

The purpose of the Hajj is to guide believers toward attaining spiritual loftiness. The Qur’an tells us "…take a provision with you for the journey. But the best of provisions is right conduct…" (2:197), and in verse (or, ayah) Allah immediately reminds us to move from the physical to the spiritual plane on our journey. Furthermore, the Qur’an makes it abundantly clear that, "It is not their (animals’) meat, nor their blood that reaches Allah. It is your Taqwah (right conduct) that reaches Him."

The Qur’an records how Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) made a moving supplication to Almighty Allah, saying, "O my Creator! Bestow wisdom on me, and join me with the righteous; grant me an honorable mention on the tongue of truth, among the latest generations." (Qur’an 19:83-84) Hajj is indeed a manifestation of the acceptance of Ibrahim’s prayers and is thus an integral part of Islam, for the message and mission of Prophet Ibrahim were culminated in the life and tradition of Prophet Muhammad.

Once again the ancient Hajj arrives under the dire threats from America and Israel against Iran, Syria, and by implication the entire Muslim World. In today’s times of trial, Prophet Ibrahim’s example of steadfastness, faith, commitment and courage offers enduring and relevant inspiration to Muslims every where in the world. The Qur’an describes how father and son fulfilled "the vision" by showing "patience and constancy." Their unparalleled act of faith and unhesitating submission to the will of Allah have left an indelible mark on the faithful ever since, for this shows that we too can surely overcome seemingly impossible odds through our collective moral, spiritual and material strength, focused by sincere effort.

In this post-modern world, with its overtones and undercurrents of political, social and religious tension, and with destructive forces clamoring for war and bloodshed, especially toward Muslims, a pioneering personality like Saladin also holds specific interpretative relevance, not just as an icon, but also as an idea.

Saladin occupies a very important place in the history of Islam and the West because of his belief that he was a humble servant of Allah and continually devoted to justice. Even though the roots of his legend, (unlike those of Prophet Ibrahim) lie in his military successes at Jerusalem, Saladin practiced what the Qur’an describes as "right conduct." He behaved with humility, sensitivity, piety, generosity, and a just sense of governance that have generated a remarkable historical interpretation, immortalizing and equating his name with justice, courage and chivalry.

A recently released film, "The Kingdom of Heaven" aptly captures these qualities of Saladin — a rarity indeed when it comes to Hollywood’s portrayal of Islam and Muslims. Such is Saladin’s impact on history and civilization, for it is not only what he achieved, but also how he wore his successes that launched his titanic reputation in the West.

In short, Saladin symbolizes dedication, determination, courage, justice, kindness and sound leadership, all traits sustained by the core values of morality and spirituality, the very values that are being shunned by the so called leaders and rulers of the Muslim world.

In September 2005, I attended XIIIth World Congress of Psychiatry in Cairo, Egypt, as a presenter. It was my first trip to a place known as "the city of one thousand minarets" (towers from which muezzins daily chant the call to prayer for the faithful). Cairo is also home to the world’s oldest university, Al-Azhar, built in 969 AD by Jawhar the Sicilian, who commanded the Fatimid troops. Its mosque is the best known in the Muslim world.

Cairo is also the city where Saladin built his famous Citadel; it still stands guard over the old and the new parts of this huge city, hiding in its fold the beautiful Masjid built by the Turkish ruler Ali. As we sat inside the Masjid after our Asar prayers, cooled by a gentle breeze blowing through the open doors, I could feel and hear history’s footsteps marking the presence of a great Muslim leader of the Islamic civilization.

September 2005 was also the month of elections in Egypt, and even though the voting was over when I arrived, people’s emotions were still quite highly charged. It was only natural that our conversations with Egyptians would turn to the overall state of the Ummah (the global Muslim community) and the seeming inability of Muslims to join in solidarity to confront the menaces of poverty, illiteracy, the American threat, and Israel’s murderous occupation of Palestine.

Back in the nineteenth century, the Urdu poet Altaf Hussain Hali, wrote an invocation addressed to the Prophet (PBH). It began with the lines: "O noblest of the noble Prophets this is the time to pray. Your Ummah (people) is passing through strange times." This lamentation was written in the aftermath of the 1857 Indian mutiny and subsequent brutal reprisals by the British army that left Muslims in that country shattered and demoralized.

Iqbal, a poet and a philosopher, chose poetry to bring to Muslims a new awareness of the depth of degradation to which they had fallen, to diagnose the prime cause of their decline with the warning of the dire consequences if they failed to mend themselves in good time. Yet if there has been any change, it seems to have been for the worse.

However, there is still hope. Muslim can still redeem themselves if they only recapture their soul and regain their pristine (the Qur’anic) moral and spiritual values. If the world’s Muslims wish to transform themselves into a forward-looking and dynamic force for good, they will have to summon forth the same spirit of sacrifice and steadfastness that Prophet Ibrahim displayed — along with the qualities of dedication, determination, courage, justice, kindness and sound leadership modeled by Saladin which created a lasting legacy that continues to be admired to this day.

The Qur’an says: "verily, God will not change the condition of people, until they change what is in themselves." (Qur’an 13:11)