What is the true essence of Hajj?

The significance of Hajj as a pillar of Islam is evident from the reward this act of worship brings to its performer. As reported from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), one performing the Hajj is forgiven and as pure as a newborn baby. Although its importance and formalities are generally known and talked about, the essence, spirit and impact of Hajj on a pilgrim’s life is not generally understood or remembered.  

We should ponder over why Allaah and his Messenger granted Hajj so much importance. Is it performance of certain rites and rituals, the special dress worn, and visitation of certain place that make it the most rewarding act of worship? Or, like other acts or worship in Islam, is it the changes that Hajj makes in the performer’s personality, attitude and outlook that make Hajj so special? The other point to reflect upon is why Hajj is expected to produce significant changes in a person’s attitude and outlook. Is there anything magical in the rites and rituals of the Hajj that produce these changes, or are they due to constant and conscious effort on the part of the performer?  

The reality is that unless a person performs every step of the Hajj immersed in and imbued with the spirit that each action represents, he or she will not fully realize its promised benefits. Hajj is, in fact, an intensive training in the holistic, wholehearted, willing and enthusiastic obedience and submission to Allaah SWT. This training is provided by making the believer simulate acts of love, dedication and obedience performed by Ibraaheem and his family, whom Allaah has presented as a model Muslim family. During Hajj one actually walks in the footsteps of that family, simulating the extraordinary acts of devotion they performed for the love of Allaah. This provides proper perspective as to how devoted and submissive to Allaah a Muslim should be.  

This process of consciously immersing oneself in the spirit of Hajj starts with the intention. As soon as you decide to perform Hajj, you should also review your lifestyle in the light of those of Ibraaheem, Ismaa’eel and Haajirah and ask yourself: Do I submit to Allaah without reservation or hesitation as they did? Am I willing to sacrifice my most precious and cherished possessions, habits, preferences and desires for the sake of Allaah as Ibraaheem did? Can I, like them, obey Allaah without asking questions or without understanding why Allaah wants us to do certain things? Can I undertake dangers and difficulties willingly and enthusiastically for the sake of Islam as Ibraaheem did? Are the pleasure of Allaah and the supremacy of Islam the most important goals in my life as it was in theirs? Do the commands of Allaah, the needs of the Ummah and the call of Islam take precedence in my life over all other interests, needs and aspirations? If your answer to any of these questions is not a resounding yes, you should start by identifying where you need to improve and how you are going to go about it.  

When begin Hajj from your home, think of it as the beginning of a transformation process and not just a trip to sacred places. Start with sincere repentance and a firm intention to reach the desired level of commitment to Islam. Form specific mental images about how your attitude, personality and outlook will be changed from your current state towards that of Ibraaheem as you journey towards Haram (Makkah). As you move through various stages in your journey, observe your paradigm shifting with each step. When you remove your clothes and shower before putting on Ihraam, visualize ridding yourself of old habits and behaviour patterns that are not helpful to a life of faith and cleansing yourself from intentions and attitudes that are un- Islamic in nature and practice. When you put your Ihraam on, think of new birth and new beginnings –” a new life more like that of Ibraaheem and Ismaa’eel.  

While performing each rite of Hajj, keep the spirit of the rite and the acts of Ibraaheem in mind and feel the transformation of your attitude and personality accordingly. For example, when you arrive in Makkah and cool your eyes with the sight of the Holy Ka’bah and pray to Allaah to increase its status and its sanctity, remember the purpose for which it was built. Remind yourself of how it was going to be the centre of the Islamic movement, inviting the whole of humanity to worship and obey Allaah and to make Allaah’s law and the Islamic way of life uppermost. Dedicate yourself to that cause as Ibraaheem and his family did.  

When performing Tawaaf (circumambulation, or walking arounf the Ka’bah), feel the passionate, ardent love of Allaah making you proceed in humility in front of His Greatness, thinking at the same time your whole life in this world will be Allaah-centred, revolving around Him, His Love and His Pleasure. When running between Safaa and Marwah, see yourself running and striving throughout your life for the religion of Allaah.  

Standing in ‘Arafaat, you should feel the majestic presence of Allaah in whose presence you are standing as a humble slave. Preserve that feeling of Allaah’s presence in your consciousness throughout your remaining life. Your sacrifice should indicate your readiness, willingness and enthusiasm to give up your most cherished possessions for the sake of Allaah. And throwing pebbles (Ramy) at Jumuraat should signify that whatever little means you have, you are going to devote them all to opposing and rejecting all the un-Islamic theories and secular lifestyles that the Shayaateen (devils) of the world try to preach and impose among Muslims. It is this kind of Hajj that makes you pure and sin-free as a newborn baby. If Hajj is not performed with that kind of spirit, its intended benefits will not be realized.