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Haj and co-existence

The haj ought to remind Muslims to regard as secondary the variations in gender, birthplace, skin colour, nationality, political rank, social status and local culture, and to shun narrow communalism.

IN a Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government research working paper titled “Estimating the Impact of the Haj”, one of the findings is that the haj (pilgrimage) increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects.



Pilgrims in Arafah, Mecca. - AFP

Contrary to outsiders’ fears, the research finds that such an increased sense of unity with fellow Muslims is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Interestingly instead, hajis (pilgrims) show increased belief in peace and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions.

The research finds that, “Hajis are 22% more likely to declare that people of different religions are equal [in terms of moral responsibilities] and 11% more likely to state that adherents of different religions can live in harmony”. Hajis are also almost twice as likely to publicly condemn religious militants and extremists.

Based on evidence, the research further suggests that such positive attitudinal transformation is an impact of increased exposure through social interaction with pilgrims from around the world (Clingingsmith, Khwaja and Kremer, 2008).

The annual haj season is, indeed, a template of universal brotherhood of various Muslim nations of the globe. The term haj is conventionally translated as “pilgrimage”, which is far from giving the exact significance of haj. For example, “pilgrimage” – derived from the Latin peregrinus – strictly means “a journey in a foreign land”. Performing the haj, on the contrary, neither implies a journey to a completely alien domain nor to a foreign land.

Rather, as the haj destination is Mecca, the domain has an affinity to each and every Muslim for at least two reasons.

First, it is in Mecca that the first House – dedicated to worship the one and only God – was ever set up for mankind (the Quran, Ali ‘Imran, 3:96): “The first and oldest House of worship”, as it was erected by the father of mankind Adam, and later restored by the prophet Abraham.

Second, Mecca is the “spiritual metropolis” (Umm al-Qura) of every Muslim – a fact twice mentioned in the Quran, which is itself a very ancient historical document more than 1,400 years old (see al-An‘am, 6:92 and al-Shura, 42:7).

It is in this numinous and spiritual metropolis that millions of hajis (pilgrims) from various countries and continents collectively perform an intense, common set of practices as taught by Prophet Muhammad.

Arab, Persian, Egyptian, Berber, Turk, European, African, Indo-Pakistani, Caucasian, Chinese and Malay-Indonesian pilgrims are immediately accepted as brothers and sisters in spirituality.

Malcolm X, the US black Muslim leader, had this to say of his haj experience in the 1960s: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colours, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white ... .”

Haj is a direct, experiential realisation of all Muslims being siblings of a global family, an ummah, who without exception should be treated with justice in order to fulfil their Primordial Covenant to the one and only God (al-A‘raf, 7:172).

To quote the Prophet Muhammad’s very inclusive address during his farewell pilgrimage: “Mankind! Your Creator is One, and your progenitor was also one. All of you are from Adam, and Adam was created of dust!

“The noblest of you with God is the one who is most conscientious in guarding himself from the commission of sins and the omission of duties (taqwa). And there is no excellence for the Arabs over the non-Arabs, for the Reds over the Blacks, or the Blacks over the Reds [in skin colour], if not by such piety.”

The haj ought to remind present-day Muslims to regard as secondary the variations in gender, birthplace, skin colour, nationality, political rank, social status and local culture.

Muslims must shun the confusion of narrow communalism. As the Prophet advised his Companions, “Man is but a God-conscious believer or a hapless sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust” (narrated by Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud).

Such a unity is realised in the socio-political domain through the emphatic prohibition of murder, criminal war, oppression, tyranny, violence and slander, as punctuated by the Prophet Muhammad in the aforementioned all-embracing address: “Mankind! Your life, your property and your honour are sacred till the Day of Resurrection … Mankind! Verily the Believers are all brethren, and the property of a brother is not lawful to a man if not with his willing consent … And see that you do not go astray after me, cutting one another’s throat.”

The primary unity among Muslims requires one and only one spiritual locus and intellectual concentration.

Indeed, the secret of the pilgrimage and its ultimate purpose is – as aptly described by Imam Ghazali – “the concurrence of lofty purpose and intention, and the strength derived from proximity with the truly good people convened from all quarters of the globe”.

During the time of Caliph ‘Umar, this concurrence of lofty purpose was effectively translated into administrative measures. On the annual occasions of haj, with such a vast assembly of truly good people, the Caliph held the sessions of an appeal court against his governors and commanders, and also a public consultation on important Muslim world projects in view. Additionally, an annual literary congress, sports which are appropriate to military preparedness, trade and mercantile transactions were organised, too (Hamidullah, 1957).

Alas, the present-day socio-political upheaval and discord amongst Muslims reflect disunity and corruption of basic religious ideas. Their minds are incoherent with regard to the fundamental concepts in the worldview of Islam.

The coherent spiritual consciousness of Muslims is dependent upon how profoundly they understand the worldview of Islam, comprising multiple key concepts that have established meanings and definitions. If Muslims truly aspire to external socio-political unity, such an internal unity of thought or coherent spiritual consciousness is imperative. Dr Mohd Sani Badron is Principal Fellow/ Director of Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own. The STAR Home News Opinion IKIM Views 7/10/2014

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