By Shaykh Abdul Qayum, Head Imam of East London Mosque 

“And proclaim to mankind the Hajj (pilgrimage). They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant (wide) mountain highway.” [Qur’an, 22:27]

Just a few short weeks ago, over two million Muslims left their families, friends and life behind and made their way to the holy city of Makkah to perform the fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj. Although the physical rites of Hajj are fairly known to people, the symbolism and spiritual aspects of Hajj are often unknown to those who have yet to undertake the great pilgrimage.

Despite the many conveniences modern life has brought to Hajj, the pilgrimage itself is physically and emotionally exhausting. Nevertheless, whilst worshipping Allah, the Hujjaj (pilgrims) often find peace in their heart, as Allah says in the Qur’an, “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do the hearts find rest.” [13:28] This reminder of where true peace lies refocuses the Hujjaj and reminds them ultimately of their purpose: “I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship me.” [51:56]

During Hajj, I realised we get so distracted with life and do not spend enough time with ibadah (worship).

[ELM Hajj reflection]

Ihram, the two simple white sheets that male Hujjaj wear, bear a striking resemblance to the white shrouds we will be buried in. Meanwhile women due to the obligation of hijab have been commanded to wear simpler, more humble clothing. The ihram also serves to remind us that Allah sees us as equal regardless of wealth, race, nationality or age; despite how you travelled to Makkah, the standards of your hotel or the luxuriousness of your Hajj package, only our piety differentiates us. In Ihram, the hujjaj all together, perform the sacred rites of Hajj, seeking forgiveness, in their intimate supplications to their Lord.

Hajj provides the place and the time when a man owns up to his mistakes, shortcomings and sins and appeals directly to God for forgiveness and repentance. Alongside this intimate and personal relationship with God, millions of people share similar relationships in open spaces, yet in strictly a private discrete contact with Allah.

[ELM Hajj reflection]

 Feeling at one with so many other Muslims from all corners of the world during each Salah [prayer] was also special. Knowing that millions of us have all gathered for the same purpose was in itself amazing.

[ELM Hajj reflection]

Hajj serves as practical training for tarbiyyah (nurturing) and tazkiyah (purification) of the hujjaj’s character. In the hot conditions of Hajj where people aren’t sleeping comfortably or eating adequately, and are physically and emotionally exhausted from the intense worship, it’s very easy to let tempers flare during tricky situations. The Hujjaj are ordered by Allah to exercise sabr (patience), avoid misbehaving, and embracing the spirit of sacrifice that Hajj represents by preferring others over ones own self. 

“The pilgrimage takes place during the prescribed months. There should be no indecent speech, misbehaviour, or quarrelling for anyone undertaking the pilgrimage- whatever good you do, God is well aware of it. Provide well for yourselves: the best provision is to be mindful of God- always be mindful of Me, you who have understanding.” [2:197]

Just as Ramadan serves to practically train our mind and body to be more conscious of Allah and abstain from what He has forbidden, so too does Hajj serve as an opportunity for the hujjaj to train themselves to exercise patience. 

[ELM Hajj reflection]

One of the most important rites of Hajj is when all the pilgrims gather on the plain of ‘Arafat; it foreshadows standing in front of our Lord on the Day of Judgement. This year was a rare occasion when it rained on the Day of ‘Arafat as the Hujjaj were making their du’as [supplications]. Two hadith [Prophetic teachings] highlight the blessed nature of this event.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said “Two [du‘as] are not rejected: du‘a at the time of the call to prayer and du‘a at the time of rain.” [Al-Mustadrak of Al-Hakim] and in another hadith, “The best of du’a is du’a on the day of ‘Arafah.” [Al-Muwatta]

When it rained in ‘Arafat day, it made the whole land so much more spiritual, as if you could feel that Allah was accepting our du’as. No one can explain in words how those moments felt.

[ELM Hajj reflection]

A favourite moment of mine from Hajj was when we were blessed with rain on the Day of ‘Arafat. Standing in the rain and having the opportunity to make du’a was an indescribable feeling. I couldn’t help but feel blessed in that moment, and really feel that Allah was listening to every word I was saying.

[ELM Hajj reflection]

Hajj is ultimately a microcosm of life. Just as we embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to seek out Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, life is also a one-time opportunity for us to seek out Allah’s pleasure and His paradise. Just as we leave behind our families, friends and wealth to get closer to Allah – which is demonstrated by the hujjaj reciting the talbiyah (prayer) Labbayka Allāhumma Labbayk (Here I am at your service O God, here I am) – so too in death we will leave them behind to return to our Lord. Just as Hajj is not a simple journey, the same applies to life; we struggle in the face of countless obstacles and hardships, but by enduring the trials and focusing on our purpose, we will gain the pleasure of Allah and His paradise, through His mercy. In essence, this is the true meaning of embodying Tawheed (Oneness of Allah) - to give priority to Allah's command in all spheres of your life.

Hajj brought me closer to Allah by mentally preparing me to realise that in life nothing matters if we are disconnected from Allah. Our sustenance, health and worldly matters are all down to Him. My concentration in Salah is more focussed now than before. You get to appreciate what you say in Salah, and that conversation with Allah has become stronger, Alhamdulillah.

[ELM Hajj reflection]

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “The reward of Hajj Mabrūr (i.e. Hajj that is accepted by Allah) is nothing but Jannah.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

The Hujjaj aim to return from Hajj as if literally born anew; translating to being more conscious of the halal (permissible) and the haram (impermissible), having a deeper desire to seek Islamic knowledge to further their understanding of the religion and greater patience with the people around them. The scholars say that ‘a sign of an accepted good deed is more good deeds after it’, and this equally applies to Hajj.

Through all that has been mentioned, it is easy to understand why Hajj is from amongst the pillars of our faith. Despite having the obligation of only completing it once in our life if we are able to afford it, Hajj is a momentous pillar.

Hajj is more than just the outward rituals. Whilst they provide the foundation for an accepted Hajj, the pilgrimage can be a period of deep reflection for one’s own spiritual state and serves as an opportunity for us to nurture a deep relationship with our Creator. For the most sincere who perform it correctly, it encourages them to be a better person, less absorbed in their own material needs, and more considerate of the needs of others and most importantly, the command of his/her Lord – to ultimately refocus their life towards the life-hereafter.