In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

The Pilgrimage Rituals and Their Purpose

    The Pilgrimage Rituals and Their Purpose
    By Dr. Muhammad Kamal Al-Shareef



    As Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the lunar year, approaches, millions of believers throughout the world experience a strong sense of longing to visit the Kaaba and offer the pilgrimage. They dream of beholding the place where the first house ever dedicated for pure worship was built, to walk around it, pray close to it, and walk between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, where Hagar, Ishmael's mother, walked when she searched for water for her thirsty young child. They feel a strong drive which wants to take them to Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina; to take up pebbles and commemorate Abraham's action as he stoned the devil who tried to dissuade him from obeying God's orders.

    A question persists in our minds: What is the wisdom behind imposing this duty which involves much endurance of hardship and requires a substantial amount of money to fulfill?

    A believer trusts to divine wisdom which sets out the duties God requires us to do. There is no doubt that the purpose of pilgrimage and the wisdom behind it are, in part, related to the requirement that the act of worship known as pilgrimage must be performed at particular time and place to which all pilgrims travel from their respective places of residence. The wisdom of pilgrimage is not confined to the actual rituals it involves, such as the tawaf around the Kaaba, the sa?ie between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, attendance at Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina, stoning, shaving one's head and offering a sacrifice. All these rituals can be offered at a pilgrim's place of abode, in the same way as prayers are offered in every town, village and street. Over the last two weeks we discussed the psychological benefit derived from offering the pilgrimage only in Makkah, close to the first house ever built for worship.

    Yet people continue to ask about the wisdom behind the pilgrimage rituals. Why do we walk in an anti-clock wise movement seven times around the Kaaba? What effect does this tawaf have on us mentally and psychologically? Why do we walk between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah? Why do we take the trouble to attend at Arafat at a particular time on one particular day each year, hard as that may be? Why do we then go to Muzdalifah and Mina, and why do we shave our heads or cut our hair and do the stoning ritual?

    It may be suggested that the tawaf in an anti-clock wise walk around the Kaaba is akin to the planets as they move in their orbits; the sa?ie between the two hills commemorates Hagar's search for water, and the stoning commemorates Abraham's action in defiance of Satan. All this is true, but why do we have to undertake such a long journey, enduring such hardship and cost for that, knowing that our difficulties are multiplied by the fact that all these rituals must be fulfilled at a particular time every year, leading to much overcrowding? Needless to say, a walk similar to the movement of planets in their orbits and a commemoration of the deeds of Abraham and his wife, Hagar, can be achieved without going through all this difficulty. Appreciating the real hardship involved in pilgrimage, the Prophet describes it as jihad for women and weaker persons.

    It appears that we cannot come up with a convincing and well-defined purpose to say that it represents the wisdom behind all this. But it may be that the absence of such a purpose is actually the wisdom we are looking for.

    When anyone of us receives an order to fulfill certain instructions or take a particular action, he complies with this order mostly for one or more of three factors. The first is his fear of an immediate consequence of disobedience. In this case, compliance comes as a result of a threat, blackmail or some other form of compulsion. One may take out his wallet and put it in the hand of a thief armed with a gun. A child may abandon his favorite game to give it to his brother, if he senses, from the very tone of his parents, that unless he does that, punishment would be immediate. People may abandon their land and homes to save themselves or their honor. In all these situations, the action taken is the result of compulsion, which is fundamentally different from obedience.

    The second factor that makes anyone of us obey an order is his conviction that such obedience serves his interests or fulfills his desire or brings him some pleasure. In these cases, obedience is the result of accord between the order and the person's conviction or desire. Again, it is not a matter of submission to the one issuing the order.

    The third factor is that of total obedience or submission to the one giving the order. He seeks to please him, knowing that he is not pointing a gun at him or threatening him with grave consequences. He does what he is bid to do, regardless of whether he is convinced of its being good for him, or whether it gives him pleasure or satisfies his desires. He simply obeys, indicating his submission, making no protest or argument against the order. This is what the Prophet Abraham did when God commanded him to take his young, helpless wife and their infant child, born to him in his old age, to abandon them in a barren valley with no people around.

    The Prophet Abraham, who provides a perfect example of submission to God, acted on his orders without waiting for the purpose or wisdom to be clarified to him. The action required of him was totally against his heart desire, because he dearly loved his wife and son, and against his rational judgment. Nevertheless, he obeyed God's order in clear submission to His authority.


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