AS Muslims around the world celebrate Hari Raya Aidiladha, which is the culmination of the haj pilgrimage, it is imperative that we reflect on the wisdom behind the notion of haj.
The fifth pillar of Islam requires all able Muslims to go to Mecca at least once in their lifetime to show their devotion towards the sole creator of the universe, Allah the Almighty.
The Quranic injunction to this stipulates that all believers undertake the spiritual journey to strengthen their belief in God. The rituals during the haj reaffirm one's belief in Allah.
From every corner of the earth, millions of Muslims converge in Mecca annually to seek forgiveness from the Almighty. They become one ummah (congregation) despite their different origins.
Visits to historical sites in Mecca and its outskirts remind pilgrims of the hardships faced by Prophet Muhammad in propagating Islam in its early days. The rituals were prescribed to enlighten the pilgrims that the only God is Allah. Without humility and an acute awareness of the greatness of Allah, one can never appreciate the haj rituals and one may get nothing from the pilgrimage.
For instance, the ihram (a garment of unstitched cloth), which must be worn by all pilgrims, signifies equality before God. Even if you are a millionaire, you must don the ihram. This has been elaborated in the Quran, which states that all men are created equal and only those who are faithful will be considered favourably in God's eyes. Therefore, in haj and also in life, there can be no difference between the rich and poor, the aristocrats and laymen.
Another example is the stoning of the Jamraat, which represents Satan or the evil, a ritual at the end of the pilgrimage. It marks an explicit rejection and disgust of all deviant paths in this world.
Worldly affairs are full of deception and to differentiate between right and wrong is never easy. Many of us would choose the easy way out and agree to all sorts of exercises in life without considering whether they are permissible in Islam. We trivialise faith and religion. We live a life of worldly entertainment. We are easily tempted. We often neglect the commands of God and fail to observe His teachings. This is a common trait in many of us.
Through the stoning ritual, Islam warns its followers to have a clear notion of what is right and wrong, to choose all that is good and to reject the bad. By and large, haj teaches us to become better Muslims.
Ahmad Azhan Mohd Noh, Putrajaya New Straits Times Opinion Letters to the Editor 14/10/2013