Hajj (pilgrimage) is one of the major unique annual events in the Muslim world. Every year more than two million pilgrims travel from all over the world to gather in Mecca in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj; and those Muslims who are not taking part in any one particular year usually mark, or at least acknowledge the occasion somehow from wherever they are living. The story of the Hajj and the different religious practices associated with it, together with the large participation of pilgrims and its significance to the lives of Muslims, make the Hajj a phenomenon worth reflecting upon and investigating its main aspects. A cursory survey of the literature available on the Hajj would suggest that whilst there are considerable works that address this topic, particularly from the Islamic Law of Worshipping (fiqh al-ibadat) perspective, there is a lack of material on the socio-ethical aspects. What I would like to consider here therefore, with our distinguished readers, are the key aspects of the Hajj, and in so doing I wonder how many among the pilgrims, and Muslims in general, are really aware of and committed to the true essence, the real meaning and the higher objectives of the Hajj?
Hajj as a religious practice goes back some four thousand years when Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismail (may peace and blessings be upon them) built the Ka’bah in Mecca. Allah said in the Qur’an: “As Abraham raises the foundations of the House, together with Ismail, he said ‘Our Lord, accept it from us, You are the Hearer, the Knower’”. Ibrahim (pbuh) was commanded to call people to the House of Allah as in the following injunction of the Qur’an “We showed Abraham the location of the House: ‘Do not associate anything with Me; and purify My House for those who circle around, and those who stand to pray, and those who kneel and prostrate. And announce the pilgrimage to humanity. They will come to you on foot, and on every transport. They will come from every distant point’”.
The Hajj rituals took their final form as we know them today, and it became compulsory for all Muslims, to undertake the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. The main conditions to perform the Hajj are to: be Muslim, have reached puberty, be sane, and financially and physically able. This Wajib (religious duty) is founded on a clear injunction in the Qur’an: “…Pilgrimage to the House is a duty to Allah for all who can make the journey…”. In the Sunnah, there are various authentic reports that Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) reiterated this understanding from Allah by commanding Muslims to perform the Hajj. For instance, he said: “O people, Allah has made Hajj obligatory for you; so perform Hajj”. Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) also urged Muslims to undertake the Hajj as soon as they became capable and warned them of the grave consequences if they did not do so, saying, “Whoever has the provisions and the means to convey him to Allah's House and does not perform Hajj, then it does not matter if he dies as a Jew or a Christian. That is because Allah said in His Book: And Hajj to the House is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, for whomever is able to bear the journey”. The Prophet’s warning and advice stem from his love for the believers and his commitment to guide them to the straight path to please Allah. This hadith also reflects his wisdom, in the knowledge that during their lives, people may become too busy, or too frail and unfit, or might pass away at any point, thus his recommendation to undertake the Hajj sooner rather than later in one’s life.
It is clear from records and his biography, that the Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) performed the Hajj only once, after the Hijra (migration from Mecca to Medina). His Hajj became known as the Farewell Pilgrimage. The huge significance of the Prophet’s Hajj (pbuh) and his Farewell Sermon is twofold: (i) to educate Muslims on the correct practice of Hajj and (ii) to lay down the fundamental principles, that if followed properly, will keep the Muslim community safe, united and strong. Among the most important universal principles that the Prophet (pbuh) left us with the sanctity of caring for others as one would wished to be cared for oneself, in relation to human blood/life, money/property and honor/dignity. Prophet (pbuh) said: “…All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth and his honor”.
Whilst it is well-known that the Hajj, as an obligatory act of worship, has prescribed rituals that must be performed for a minimum of five days from eight to twelve of the month of Dhul Hijjah, it is important to emphasize that the Hajj is not only these few appointed days but rather an entire season of worship. We know this from the Qur’an, where Allah said: “The Hajj is in the well-known (lunar year) months…” and indeed many scholars of Hadith and Tafsir (Qur’an exegesis) agree that this period of worship starts immediately after the month of Ramadan on 1st of Shawal (the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar) and continues through the month of Dhul Qaedah (the 11th month) until the tenth day of Dhul Hijjah (the 12th month). This extended period (lasting for two months and ten days) is meant to give the pilgrims ample time to prepare for their journey in terms of their financial, social and spiritual circumstances.
It is interesting to note that the Qur’an does not actually name these months per se. Scholars think that this is because these months were already well-known to the Arabian community and tribes of the pre-Islamic era. In fact there is a strong correlation and overlap between the months of the Hajj and the Sacred Months (al-Ashhur al-Hurum) - the Qur’an stipulates that the Islamic lunar calendar consists of twelve months, four of which are Sacred. The Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) confirmed the names of the four Sacred Months as: (i) Muharram (the 1st month); (ii) Rajab (the 7th month), (iii) Dhul Qaedah (the 11th month), and (iv) Dhul Hijjah (the 12th month). Traditionally within the pre-Islamic Arabian communities and tribes, these months were already being observed as periods of non-violence and this peaceful practice continued after the establishment of Islam because war, fighting and conflict, indeed any kind of violence is forbidden during the Sacred Months. This, for the most part, has been observed by the pilgrims to this day. One of the divine wisdoms of the legislation of the Sacred Months in relation to the Hajj is to facilitate the establishment of a safe and secure space so that the pilgrims can remain focused and attentive, performing their worship properly during the time that they are in Mecca, and then also calmly and safely return to their families and home countries.
The concept of Hajj mabrur (blessed and accepted pilgrimage) is essential to the perception of Muslims in general and the pilgrims in particular. It is also central in this socio-ethical reflection and is thus worth closer examination. In many authentic hadiths, Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) preached that the reward of Hajj mabrur is nothing but paradise and that all previous sins will be forgiven. This huge reward and other benefits of pilgrimage, perhaps, constitute the major motivation for many Muslims to repeatedly perform the Hajj and Umrah.
The first and most important criteria of Hajj mabrur is one’s intention to perform Hajj sincerely and for the sake of Allah only. Thus Muslim pilgrims must take all necessary measures to keep this act of worship confidential between themselves and their Lord; and to avoid all things ostentatious and speaking or acting in a way that may corrupt their intention and tarnish or invalidate their worship. According to Allah’s word “…And perform properly the Hajj and 'Umrah for Allah”. Unfortunately, there are a number of widespread and growing cultural traditions in Muslim-majority societies that could potentially damage the essence of Hajj as an act of worship. For example, some Muslims purposely disclose their intentions and broadcast to their contacts that they are traveling to the Holy Land. Others celebrate their departure, and even their return from the Hajj, by inviting family members and friends to a dinner or a reception.
Others have been known to go further, organizing art performances in what is a very ceremonial show of ostentation indeed, in complete contrast to the original instruction. There is a growing trend in some societies for the pilgrims and their family members to organize car convoys using car horns and playing drums or other musical instruments to send the pilgrims on their way to the airport and to fetch them when they return. Moreover, after performing the Hajj, some Muslims insist on being called by the title ‘hajj or hajji’ - I have myself witnessed some pilgrims being angered and taking offense when they have not been addressed by their hajj title! Is this the output from undertaking the Hajj that was intended for us? Some pilgrims on one hand repeatedly and loudly recite the talbiyah; that is to say “I respond to your call O Allah, I respond to your call and I am obedient to your orders, etc.” and on the other hand spending so much valuable time in recording and taking photos of every single activity and rituals that they do. Thereafter, wasting further quality time by sharing the videos and photos with their family members, friends and the whole world on social media instead of concentrating on remembering Allah and performing the rituals with complete sincerity to enhance their spiritualties; and latterly finding ways to try to continue with the virtuous behavior they have been reminded of during the Hajj. Sadly this is the current state of affairs for some. One might wonder whether the new generations will need to apply more self-control than ever before, so as to be able to reach the intended status of peace that Allah so wants for us.
Another essential aspect of Hajj mabrur is the integration between the Fiqh (legal) and the ethical requirements of Hajj. For some this integration is minimal, because unfortunately some pilgrims pay more attention to the legal aspects such as what to wear, how to perform certain rituals, how to rectify mistakes, etc. and overlook the ethical aspect altogether. The Qur’an and Sunnah teach that the ethical commitment to attain Hajj mabrur starts from day one of the Hajj season. This means that Muslim pilgrims must be more vigilant and committed to the ethical values of Islam particularly during this season, and must avoid any destructive qualities and sinful behavior such as obscenity, malice and arguing. Allah commands:“…whosoever decides to perform Hajj there shall be no sexual relations, nor misconduct, nor quarrelling during the Hajj…and take a provision but the best provision is At-Taqwa. So fear Me, O men of understanding!”. This verse was revealed after the legislating verse of the Hajj and it was meant to correct the rituals of the Hajj and clean the practice of this obligation from the customs of the pre-Islamic era (Jahiliya) and also from the heresies (bida’).
Further injunctions in this direction, particularly the ban of polytheists and naked pilgrims from performing the Hajj, were clearly expressed by Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) as narrated by Abu Huraira. He said: “In the year prior to the last Hajj of the Prophet (pbuh) when Allah's Messenger (pbuh) made Abu Bakr the leader of the pilgrims, the latter (Abu Bakr) sent me in the company of a group of people to make a public announcement: 'No pagan is allowed to perform Hajj after this year, and no naked person is allowed to perform Tawaf of the Ka`ba'”. Having highlighted this, it is important to reiterate that attaining Taqwa (piety and God-fearing) is the higher objective of the Hajj. Taqwa is generally perceived as the essence of all acts of worship in Islam and it always correlates with good character. In this context it connotes righteousness and correct conduct during the Hajj. This is also supported by some teachings of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh), such as: “Whoever performs Hajj for Allah's pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife [yarfuth], and does not do evil or sins [yafsuq] then he will return (after Hajj) free from all sins as if he were born anew”.
Among the most striking features of Hajj mabrur are the spiritual enhancement and ethical values learned or revived during the journey. For example, pilgrims enhance the value of brotherhood and solidarity by meeting and living with their fellow Muslims from different countries, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This is an opportunity to learn more about one another’s lives - our concerns, problems, challenges, and our success stories – and thus facilitate the establishment of good relations so as to better support one other during both difficult and happy times in the future. Pilgrims also learn or revive the value of equality and gender equity by the rituals they are all required to perform and also by the similar dress (plain white robes/covers) they are all obliged to wear regardless of their gender (male or female), ethnicity (Arab or non-Arab), age (young or old), socio-economic (poor or rich, educated or uneducated) or political status (in a position of influence or not).
Pilgrims are also reminded to uphold good values such as patience, discipline, respect, and tolerance as they perform the prescribed rituals together in precise system without quarrelling or indecency but by being dignified, kind and tolerant of one another. Mecca and particularly the area immediately surrounding the Ka’bah can become very crowded during the days of the Hajj and there is no doubt that physical contact and encroachment upon one’s personal space does happen, with some pilgrims being provoked and even responding violently verbally or physically. Thus the Hajj is a real test of those values that constitute good character especially, as mentioned before, patience and self-control, humbleness, brotherhood, and tolerance - it is a real school for applied social ethics!
In conclusion, by understanding the essence and higher objectives of the Hajj, its deep root within the history of the monotheistic religions, and by undertaking its righteous acts with absolute sincerity, pilgrims become revitalized spiritually within themselves, reminded of the necessity for good and moral behavior. It is through this that we are ultimately reminded of the essential message that Islam need not merely be only a belief but is also a complete balanced lifestyle, a way to practice a virtuous, and in turn, thoroughly fulfilling life, in God’s peace. Finally I wish all our pilgrims hajj mabrur and dhamb maghfur.
Dr. Fethi Ahmed, Research Coordinator at CILE, QFIS, HBKU. His main research interests include contemporary issues in Sociology and Muslim societies, Applied Ethics, and Islamic Thought and Civilization. Dr Ahmed holds a PhD in Political Sociology, an MA in Islamic Studies and a BA in Applied Sociology and Statistics.
 See: Jamaluddin Mohamed Ibn Mandhur, Lisanul-Arab, http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=1626&idto=1626&bk_no=122&ID=1627 ;
Ar-Raghib Al-Asfahani, Mufradat Al-Fadh Al-Qur’an, https://archive.org/stream/FP106319/106319#page/n217/mode/2up ; Fakhruddin Ar-Razi, Mafatih Al-Ghayb, http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=2&tAyahNo=196&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=1
 Qur’an, 2:127.
 Ibid, 22:26-27.
 Ibid, 3:97; 22:27.
 Qur’an, 2:197.
 For example see: At-Tirmidhi, op.cit., Book 9, Hadith 125, http://www.sunnah.com/tirmidhi/9/125 ; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Al-Quran Al-Karim, http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=7&tSoraNo=2&tAyahNo=197&tDisplay=yes&Page=2&Size=1&LanguageId=1
 Qur’an, 9:36.
 At-Tirmidhi, op.cit.; Ibn Kathir, op.cit., http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=1&tTafsirNo=7&tSoraNo=9&tAyahNo=36&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=1
 Qur’an, 2:196; 98:5; 39:14-15.
 Ibid, 2:197.
 Ibid, 3:97.