PROFESSOR ASLAM FATAAR was inspired by his personal hajj experience earlier this year to pen these thoughts which form the basis of a Khutbah delivered recently. He reflects on how he encountered the structure and rituals of the hajj.
WE walked in the footsteps of prophet Muhammad (SAW), who taught us the hajj when he performed it in the year 632. We walked the ancient path of Allah’s command – of those who travel to Baitul Ateeq from many places as explained in this ayah:
‘Hence, [O Muhammad,] proclaim thou unto all people the [duty of] pilgrimage: they will come unto thee on foot and on every [kind of] fast mount, coming from every far-away point [on earth]’. (Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage) 22:27).
We also follow in our community’s culture of pilgrimage, a firm consciousness of pilgrimage, a culture based on the prospective hajji carrying the desire, hope and prayers of family, friends, and neighbours on the journey.
The beautiful greeting culture in Cape Town before the hajj departure blesses the hajji’s travelling path as the hajji becomes a representative of one’s community, realising the privilege and responsibility of being selected to be the guest of Allah.
We set out to enact the primordial story of Adam and Hawwa, Ibrahim, Hajar and Ismail in establishing Allah’s covenant and commitment to tawhid in the battle with Satan. Our ritual worship moves along a journey in the desert plains outside Makkah; spending preparation times in the camp of Mina on the 8th day of Thil Hijja, moving to Arafat the next day to enact prophet Muhammad’s instruction, al-hajju ‘Arafah, that the hajj is ‘Arafah,
Then we move to Muzdalifa after maghrib, where we spend part of the night humbly sitting on the dusty ground and collecting our pebbles. This is followed the next day by walking to the jamaraats to pelt the stones at the devil, the jamaraat al-Aqaba. The slaughtering of the sheep sacrifice is enacted before we move to Makkah to perform the tawaf and sai al-ifadah. This is followed by the throwing of the three jamaraats on the 11th, 12th and 13th days of Thul Hijjah.
We encounter Makkah not only as a spiritually sanctified space of worship but also as a quotidian space, a space of everyday human transaction. It is also a space of gross architectural design, surveillance and control, a space of commodification and gentrification. There are attempts by the custodians to turn the hajj and umrah into a year-round religious tourist attraction.
Bio-surveillance of the hajji’s body is a stark reality. We did the hajj with a band with a QR code strapped around our wrist. The hajji’s movements are under surveillance with biometrics and CCTV cameras.
The haram of Makkah is surrounded by gentrified spaces, topline western-owned hotels and malls. The Fairmont Makkah Royal Clocktower protrudes over the Ka’ba, creating an annoying distraction, as if in satanic competition with the oneness and divinity of Allah’s sovereignty. Such architectural forms compete with the architectural simplicity of the ‘bait-al-atiq’, the ancient house as the Quran describes the Ka’ba (Surah Hajj). I experienced this visual assault after completing a tawaf and sunnah salah at the Maqam Ibrahim.
The Quran describes the Ka’ba as the primordial symbol of tawhid (unicity). The Ka’ba represents a complete break from shirk or associating partners with Allah. The Ka’ba is the most distilled symbol of Allah’s tawhid.
The hajji struggles to overcome the sights of the satanic commodity form, an example of which is the clocktower and the gentrified buildings in Makkah and Madina.
Yet, the hajji is invested with spiritual energy and cognitive focus that centre on Allah’s sovereignty (mulk) and tawhid (unicity). The hajji is focused on renewing the covenant with Allah established by nabi Adam and renewed by nabi Ibrahim. Allah is at the very centre of the hajji’s spiritual communion during the hajj journey.
Circumambulating the Ka’ba while performing the tawaf symbolises the perpetual swirl of people in unison. As the hujjaj performs the tawaf, they beseech Allah to afford them a good life in this world and the hereafter. This duah is the hajji’s perpetual refrain as they swirl in unison around the Ka’ba, always turning away from satan’s negative influence, satan’s destructive impact on us as humans. The tawaf embodied the hajji’s investment in resisting, negating and impugning satan’s impact on our life paths.
Herein truly lies a lesson for the hajji; one that the hajji cannot simply process through a narrow religious prism, of viewing the hajj only as narrow religious or spiritual worship. The critique of the hajj as a commodified form, as we as hajjis encountered it, was accompanied by a critical awareness of how conspicuous consumption and the ruler’s power work, of how power disrupts and corrupts, of how the ultimate commitment to a so-called ‘world without end’ gives the powerful license to rule without accountability.
Without accountability, the powerful construct the world in the image of profit, commodifying even the most sacred of symbols such as the Ka’ba and the mataaf areas. Administering the hajj based on techno-scientific surveillance is conceptually founded on the view that ‘Allah is supposedly dead’. Such a view translates into an unaccountable attitude, living with consumerist impunity; in other words, living without an ethical conscience
The primordial journey towards Allah is at the centre of the hajji’s bodily encounter with the hajj. The hajj is physically arduous. The hajj journey depends on the body’s exertion in communing and connecting with the various manasik, the hajj rituals. The promise is that the hajji would cultivate a virtuous, spiritually infused human quality. The hajj affords the hajji the opportunity to cultivate their malaaka (dispositional quality). The hajj rituals are infused with a divine quality, producing a body that exists in the world with integrity.
The challenge that the hajji confronts is to neutralise and marginalise satan. Centring Allah’s sovereignty is the key objective. This is the main duah that the hajji offers on the plains of Arafah, the day of wuquf when the hajji is infused with spiritual energy, making duah and speaking to Allah.
We offered this glorious supplication on Arafat:
‘There is no God but Allah alone, without any partners, unto Him belong the dominion and all praise, and He has power over all things.’
We submitted entirely to Allah’s mulk, Allah’s sovereignty. We prayed to Allah to forgive us our sins, misdeeds and weaknesses. We cried tears of regret, overcome with emotion as we glorified Allah, beseeching Allah for mercy, protection, and knowledge with wisdom. We prayed for ourselves and our world, our family and community, and Allah’s intervention and assistance in dealing with the world’s problems, big and small.
We beseeched Allah to capacitate us to address the scourge of racism, xenophobia, gender-based violence and misogyny, and our planetary existence. We asked Allah to provide us with the critical capacity to develop constructive individual and collective sustainable life paths, give us wholesome relationships, and assist us in dealing constructively with our wellness challenges, educational processes, and employment futures.
We approached the throwing of the jamaraats to viscerally defeat satan, who tried to persuade Ibrahim not to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Ibrahim overcame satan and proceeded to slaughter his obedient son, but from which Allah absolved him. In its stead, Ibrahim slaughtered a sacrificial sheep. The hujjaj observed the slaughtering of sheep in honour of Ibrahim and Ishmael’s obedience to Allah.
We pelted satan with a visceral bodily movement, calling satan by his name, targeting satan’s impact on our egos, annihilating satan’s corrosive effect on our behaviour.
We experienced tremendous release as we moved to Makkah to observe the tawaf al-ifadah around the Ka’ba, and sa’i al-ifadah, the latter emulating our mother Hajar and her search for succour for her baby, Ishmael, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa. From the sa’i, we take our commitment to the importance of women in our lives, committing ourselves to gender equity which is so elusive in contemporary times.
Seeking God’s forgiveness and pardon provided the primary normative frame for our hajj journey. As prophet Muhammad teaches us, the day of Arafah, the day of knowledge and self-realisation, is the hajj’s pinnacle. This is the day of the hajji’s rebirth, which aligns with Adam and Hawwa’s duah after satan persuaded them to sin by eating from the forbidden tree by luring them with a promise of an angelic existence and to live forever (Al-A’raf, 7:20).
Through Allah’s mercy on Adam and Hauwwa, they were released from satan’s clutches upon reciting the following duah:
‘O our Sustainer! We have sinned against ourselves -and unless Thou grant us forgiveness and bestow Thy mercy upon us, we shall most certainly be lost!’ Al-A’raf (The Heights) 7: 23
This is the pinnacle of the hajj: the acknowledgement of sinning against oneself, of taking responsibility for one corrosive and undermining behaviour and disposition.
The duah shows the path towards repentance, which is the sincere seeking of forgiveness, committing to a path of personal restitution. Accessing Allah’s ever-available forgiveness and mercy is the key. We understood that Allah’s mercy is always available to us if we are willing to recognise our transgressions, adapt our behaviour, and embark on a corrective path of living in submission to Allah’s command.
Such a path of seeking forgiveness holds the potential of becoming a structured pathway for communities and societies if they are willing to live a life of forgiveness seeking. Such is the illuminating path that the journey of the hajj has provided the hujjaj of 2022 and those before them. May Allah give them a hajj mabrur, a righteous hajj, Insha’Allah.
- Professor Aslam Fataar delivered this Khutbah at University of Cape Town on Friday, August 5, 2022. He is a professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Stellenbosch University and currently a Research and Development Professor attached to the university’s Transformation Office.