In the last week of June, millions of pilgrims are preparing for Hajj, the most important journey in a Muslim’s life. Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mekka, is an epic journey. It’s the 5th and final pillar of Islam.
Hajj takes Muslims on a journey back through time, retelling the moral and spiritual history of humankind. They visit the Kaaba, the first place of worship established by Abraham and the House of Allah. It is the home of Monotheism, the cradle of Divine Unity. Here they walk around the geographical center of Islam, the Kaaba. This is the center of their Islamic universe.
Hajj reminds Muslims about their primordial human nature: Fitrah. Fitrah is our natural state, the way God made us. We were born innocent and pure, without sin. But God also made us to be forgetful. We are easily distractible. It’s our tendency to lose focus and to forget. That leads us to slide into sinful and shameful behavior.
Hajj also offers redemption, divine mercy and forgiveness. God reminds us never to despair of His mercy. If we sincerely stop our bad behavior and return to God’s obedience, His forgiveness is complete.
The ritual of walking around the Kaaba symbolizes effort and action, in a constant, circular motion, centered around a fixed and immovable idea of Unity. Just like the Kaaba, the unity of belief and unity of purpose stands firm amidst a swirl of individual opinions and different starting points.
The great plains of Arafat become the stage for a dramatic role-play of the very beginning and the very end. Muslims believe God created the souls of every human being that ever was and ever will be. Then He asked them to testify, by declaring the First Covenant. This was in the state of metaphysical time, or pre-Eternal Time. That was the very beginning.
What about the end? The great gathering on Arafat is their Day of Atonement. It’s also a dress rehearsal for the Day of Judgment. This is how the entire human race will one day stand before God, awaiting the Final Judgement. With millions dressed in just two sheets of cloth, we cannot distinguish anyone’s wealth and social status. No one can see who’s rich and who’s poor; the president, the billionaire, the taxi driver, the school teacher and the farmer all look exactly the same.
This is exactly as God sees us. God isn’t looking at our social status or our designer clothes and expensive jewelry. God isn’t interested in what’s on the outside, only what’s inside. What’s inside our hearts, what desires, what hidden yearnings are lurking in the deepest depths of our being? Is it full of anger, jealousy, hatred, vanity and lust? Or is it full of love, mercy and generosity?
Are we patient and forbearing towards others? Have we purified our spiritual hearts? Do we have a pure and sound heart?
God reminds us that no one shall enter the Garden except those who come with a sound heart. [Quran 26:87-89]
Imam Ilyas Anwar is the religious leader for South Valley Islamic Community, serving them and the larger Muslim community in the Bay Area for over 20 years. He is an active member of the Interfaith Clergy Alliance of South County and can be reached at [email protected].