CRUCIBLE: Haj's eternal embrace (1) By Julkipli Wadi

(Eidu l-adha khutbah delivered at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, Makati City, November 16, 2010.)


Today, more than two million people converge in the Holy City of Makka performing the fifth pillar of Islam – the haj or pilgrimage.

And, Muslims all over the world are all enthusiastic and highly spirited celebrating today’s eidu l-adha or the Day of Sacrifice. They welcome this day with declaration of takbir (declaration of Allah’s Glory) and tahmeed (praise) and performance of congregational prayer as they will share, too, their qurban (sacrificial slaughter of animals) to the poor and the less privileged.

The haj, as you know, is more than an annual ritual in the Muslim world. It is an ages-old tradition that goes back to the time of the prophets – from Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ishmael (peace be upon them) to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). And the places associated with the sites of the haj particularly the Ka’aba, Safa and Marwa, Mina, Arafah, Mudzdalifah and others are as historic as making Makka a holy city.

No wonder even in previous scriptures like the Genesis of the Old Testament, Bakka or Makka had been prominently mentioned as it had been a place highly revered by previous prophets and believers. More particularly, the Ka’aba is not only the Muslims’ direction of prayer; it is the symbolic center of humanity ever since.

The Holy Qur’an says: “wa ad-dhin fi n-naasi bi l-hajji ya’tuuka rijaalan wa ‘alaa kulli daamirin ya’tiina min kulli fawjin ‘amiiq.” (And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways). (22, Haj: 27)

When we emphasize the historic and symbolic significance of the haj, the sacred places and the rituals therein especially as we connect them to our time, it is for us to realize that the ummah of this generation and the coming ones are fortunate to have been the object of Grace and Blessings by Allah (SWT) as they are given the opportunity to continuously perform the tradition of haj and eidu l-adha.

Similar with many of Islam’s spiritual traditions, the haj connects precisely the ummah to what the Holy Qur’an refers to as “sha’āiru l-llah” (Symbols or Landmarks of Allah). In Suratu l-baqarah, it says: “Innas-shafa wa l-marwata min sha’āiru l-llah…” (Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of God…)

These symbols are obviously not product of man’s creation and whims or man’s own concoction of sacred or holy space if only to fill in an “existential vacuum,” to use the term of Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy. Such landmarks are no less than the continuing fulfillment of Allah’s Guidance to mankind reflecting the Divine Promise to the believers, when the Qur’an says: “qulnahbituu minha jamiian fainna ya’tiyannakum minnii hudan faman tabi’a huda falaa khawpun alaihim wa lahum yahzanuun.” (We said: “Get ye all down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My Guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve). (II, Baqarah: 38).

The Guidance of Allah (SWT) as manifested even more with the identified “sha’āiru l-llah” is the “anchor” to which the ummah hold on and identify with. Again, the Qur’an says:”Inna hudal-llaahi huwa l-hudaa” (the Guidance of Allah that is the only guidance). (II, Baqarah: 120).

This point is even more significant in light of today’s ever-increasing, at times, even conflicting “signs of the time.” On one hand as modern society is becoming more developed and advanced, problems and many forms of social ills, calamities – whether natural and man-made – are also on the rise, on the other hand, creating thus an almost insurmountable enigma on many countries, communities, families, and individuals.

Incidentally, the enigma runs deep into the inner recesses of man in search of himself and his place in the world and beyond. While Allah’s Guidance has always been vividly present since day one, such Guidance has appeared fuzzy and has become even more distant for those who refuse to see it.

For sure, science and modernity and other social institutions and religious innovations try to soothe the travail and longing of man; yet, science and modernity could only go that far. The fundamental crisis of man has pervaded and resulted into what Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Sirajuddin) refers to as man’s “capitulation” to his “fall.” Accordingly, it has also created a period that is “one of “remoteness” from God where man is simply conceived as “merely the summit of the animal kingdom” and who refuses to see his primal self as essentially of lofty status (ahsanu t-taqwim) since no less than Divine Breath is blown unto (nafth) him; and despite Islam’s highly honored conception of man where he is viewed as having relationship of “nearness” to God and that his creation, if properly harnessed, would make him perpetuate such relationship even further.

Contrary to those who rebel against science and modernity, this latter perspective viewed in its positive light could in fact be used to see the “signs of the time” as a way to explain such continuing expression of “nearness” or to show Islam’s perfect harmony with the “truth” in nature to which one ritual in the haj like tawaf or circumambulation of hundreds of thousands of peoples around the Ka’aba as resembling to what astronomy or cosmology or atomic particles have unlocked; that is, whether it is the universe or an atom they both rotate around a center – the universe rotating around the sun or any of its equivalent or atomic particles of proton and electron rotating around a nucleus. It shows that in both macrocosmic and microcosmic levels, the workings of creation follow relatively similar course as the pilgrims or hujjaj making tawaf, rotating around the Ka’aba.

Apart from faith, it is this perfect symmetry of the teachings and rituals of Islam with the pattern of nature or the deenu l-fitrah (primordial tradition) that continuously makes humanity embraced the haj throughout history especially by people who could see God’s Signs and unequivocally accept His Guidance. As the Qur’an says: “Inna fi khalqis-samaawaati wa l-ard wa-khtilaafi layli wannahaar la-aayaatin lil uulil albaab.” (Verily in the creation of heavens and earth and the alternation of day and night are signs for men of understanding).

And there are indeed much signs and benefits that each pilgrim could experience whenever s/he performs the haj. Apart from being able to confirm and witness the rituals of the haj, the landmarks and history of the Prophets, the pilgrims are given the opportunity to wash off his/her previous sins and reach that state akin to a newly born child.

This and among others are the reasons why the multitude of humanity – near and far, past and present and the future – continued and will continue to be attracted to haj’s ever-increasing and ever-expanding embrace; and a reason, too, why a much greater magnitude in many countries and communities around the world continues to celebrate eidu l-adha.

Wa aquulu qawli hadha…

(MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Dean and Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.)