By Aijaz Zaka Syed
25 September 2015
Nothing celebrates the oneness of humanity and submission and surrender to the will of God as Haj does. The millions of voices perpetually chanting in unison, Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik, La Shareek Laka Labbaik, Innal Hamdah, Wan Nematah, Laka wal Mulk, La Shareek Laka, reaffirming their faith and commitment to the ideals of sacrifice, peace and unity of mankind re-create every year a surreal, out-of-this-world experience.
The sea of humanity surging and swirling around the Kaaba. There is not a more glorious and awe-inspiring sight in the whole world. Watching men and women in white going around the black-robed Kaaba during the annual Haj and at other times throughout the year is an experience that is sure to touch and transform everyone watching.
You do not have to be a believer or even get close to the Kaaba to be part of the surreal experience. No one remains unmoved by the way the faithful from all parts of the world — black and white, rich and poor and men and women — respond to the divine call and submit themselves before their Creator as equals and partners in the fellowship of faith and humanity.
You forget who you are and where you come from when you are in the presence of God, circling the Kaaba in a two-piece, unstitched attire. Indeed, nothing else matters when nearly three million pilgrims from around the world undertake the journey of a lifetime to Makkah.
The uninitiated may not be aware that Haj is not a tradition initiated by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. By undertaking the passage to Makkah, mandatory for everyone who can afford it, Muslims retrace the historic journey of Prophet Abraham and the ultimate sacrifice of offering his beloved son Ismail’s life (Ishmael) to God near the Kaaba thousands of years ago.
Abraham is equally revered by the Jews and Christians. Indeed, all Jewish prophets and Jesus Christ are related to the Patriarch who came from Iraq. Muslims revere him as the architect of the Kaaba along with his son Ismail, the ancestor of Prophet Muhammad. By retracing and reliving Abraham’s journey and finally offering the symbolic animal sacrifice, pilgrims to the holy city celebrate his unquestioning faith and the willingness to sacrifice the most cherished and precious of possessions in the way of God.
That is the essential message of Haj — sacrificing everything you’ve got and everything you love in the path of Allah — as Abraham repeatedly did. In fact, his whole life had been a study in sacrifice. From being cast into Nimrod’s fire to moving wife Hajra (Hager) and young Ismail to the wilderness of Hejaz and finally the supreme sacrifice of Ismail, the extraordinary life of the great patriarch remains unparalleled for its heroic fortitude and endurance in the way of God and total surrender to the divine will.
No wonder Abraham had been honored with the unique and most distinguished title of being Allah’s Khalil (friend). It is that liberating spirit of surrender and submission — of forbearance and fortitude by the noble Abraham and his equally noble son that the millions of pilgrims to Makkah celebrate. The believers around the world join them in spirit and in emotion by offering their own sacrifice and sharing the meat with family, friends and the less fortunate during Eid Al-Adha.
It is not merely the meat that is shared. It is the spirit of fellowship, togetherness, love, mercy, generosity and caring for each other that is the gift of this holiday of sacrifice.
Nothing offers a peek into the heart and soul of Islam and its teachings and worldview as the Haj and the Eid that follows it do. So does the Eid Al- Fitr. Indeed, if anyone wanted a crash course in Islam, they could learn all that they want to know about the faith and its philosophy by merely observing the two major festivals and why and how they are celebrated. If Eid Al-Adha celebrates the spirit of sacrifice, abstinence, piety and mercy are the hallmarks of Eid Al-Fitr that is celebrated at the culmination of the holy month of Ramadan.
Today, when the faith is under siege everywhere, with ever new challenges from people walking around pretending to be Muslims and an entire industry being dedicated to distorting, faking, falsifying and misrepresenting it in a myriad ways, there has never been a greater need to turn to the original teachings and message of Islam.
It is time to resurrect and rediscover the original values and pillars of the faith that made it great and conquer the world. It was not the cutting edge of Islam’s sword — as many like to believe — but the revolutionary nature of its message that conquered the hearts and minds everywhere; the message championing the unity of God and humanity. This Islam as we know it is as different and distant from the death cult of false gods peddled by the fiends of Daesh as day is from night. But Muslims aren’t exactly helping their cause by remaining silent or defensive in the face of falsehood, ignorance and intolerance purveyed by the fringe.
This is no time to hide. They have to speak out more often and more forcefully to present the true face of the faith before the world. If nothing else, they should speak up and defend their faith for the sake of their future generations and their own future. Darkness is fast deepening around us. Every ray of light is precious now. We must fight back the forces of darkness with the light of hope.
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