The Hajj Today: Can the Muslim World Make Sociological Sense of the Global Assembly?

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Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo

It is the dawn of the Islamic sacred month of Hajj and, as usual, hundreds of thousands of Muslims are already converging on Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj (pilgrimage) operations.

Again, in the next few days, the pilgrims will join processions of over  two million people and perform a series of Hajj rites: they will circumambulate (Tawaf) the Ka’ba seven times, run (Sa’y) back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, drink from the Zamzam Well, go to Mina, and further, to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spend a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and perform symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. After the sacrifice of their animal, they will shave their heads. Then they will celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha. Returning to Mecca, they will perform the farewell circumambulation of the Ka’ba.  

It is equally going to be a festive period for the rest of the over 1.8 billion Muslims at home across the world, as they will slaughter millions of sacrificial animals and join in the merriness of the Eid-el-Kabir (the Great Festival), as it is popularly called. Now, all this observed, the Hajj, the Festival and all the rest will be over. And, as the remnant of the meats is consumed and pots and plates washed, the festive mood would be mellowed down with the usual supplication: may the Almighty Allah spare our lives to witness another of such festivities in the coming years!

The Big Challenge

More pertinently, however, any sober reflection on the current tumultuous time which the contemporary global Muslim world (ummah) is passing through should provoke the thought and concern of the entire global Muslim leaders and intelligentsia on the primacy of making more, pragmatic sociological sense of the Hajj. No doubt,  in a holy month the sacredness of which is being profaned by the sacrileges of the ongoing Saudi-Yemen war, the protracted Syrian war, the atrocities of Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria and the bombings and carnages across the rest Muslim countries etc., it is high time the global Muslim world begin to explore and exploit the sociological opportunities and benefits offered by Hajj to solve and resolve myriad of challenges confronting it; rather than the usual superficialities of the annual practice of the State sponsoring individuals for the Pilgrimage to Mecca, or the ostentatious fixing of ‘Hajj tooth’ by the merry-making tourist-pilgrims!  

Disturbingly, if, about 40 years ago, the Palestinian-American Professor of Islamic Studies, Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi (1982) had lamented that the crisis-stricken 20th Century Muslim “world ummah of Islam is undeniably the most unhappy ummah in the world in modern times,” for the reason that, “Despite the fact that it is the largest in number, the richest in land and resource, the greatest in legacy and the only one possessing the most viable ideology, the ummah is a very weak constituent of world order. It is fragmented into an endless variety of states, divided against itself, at loggerheads with other ummahs on all its frontiers,” we in the contemporary time cannot deny the fact that the narrative in the Muslim Ummah of the 21st Century has not fared better still. Rather, from the deepening feud and xenophobic tendencies between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their respective allies, to the diplomatic crises among the Gulf States and their political allies, and the instances of divisive and deadly inter-sectarian crises and clashes within various Muslim communities across the world, we see a Muslim world that has continued to be increasingly bedevilled by the escalating spate of division, disharmony, hostility, and the collapse of Islamic brotherhood, solidarity and diplomatic relations.

True, with the instances of the scourge of state-sponsored political and religious persecutions, intra and inter-state wars and conflicts, intra-religious theological skirmishes and sectarian ideological conflicts and state-/group-sponsored terrorism trending across Muslim nations and communities, ours is a time where political disorder and upheavals, economic crisis, social unrest, poverty, diseases and human rights abuses have become the commonwealth that is wreaking havoc upon the Muslim world, deepening the lack of peace, security and development of a people who claim to believe in the religion of peace and Hajj! From reformist Salafism to Wahhabism, then to neo-Salafism, Takfiri-Jihadism and radical Islamism etc., we see ominous trends of Islamomania – Islamists’ fanatical, radical and extremist expression of Islam – destroying the fabrics of Muslims’ organic existence from the Middle East region, to the global world beyond.

Sociological Utility of the Hajj

From utilitarian perspective, the Holy Quran aptly spells out the sociological utility of the Hajj to the Muslim world when it declares:  “And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come to thee on foot, and on every lean camel, coming by every distant track, that they may witness its benefits for them and may mention the Name of Allah, during the appointed days…..” (Quran, Surah al-Hajj, 22:28-29)

As far back as the 1940s, the Second Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Hadhrat Mirza Bashirud-din Mahmud Ahmad (ra), in his characteristic insight and foresight, succinctly enlightened the Muslim world about the sociological importance of the Islamic Pilgrimage. He declared in his commentary on the foregoing Quranic verses thus:

“Hajj provides pilgrims of different lands and diverse nationalities with an excellent opportunity to cultivate acquaintance with one another and discuss matters of common interest”. “Apart from the spiritual good that the pilgrimage does to a Muslim, it possesses great social and political significance. It has great potentialities for welding different Muslim countries into one strong international brotherhood of Islam. Muslims from all parts of the world who meet at Mecca once a year can exchange views on all sorts of matters of international importance, renew old and establish new contacts. They have opportunities to acquaint themselves with the problems that confront their brethren in Faith in other countries, to copy one another’s good points and profit by one another experience and also co-operate with one another in many other ways. Mecca being God’s appointed centre of Islam, the Pilgrimage can serve as a sort of United Nations Organisation for the whole Muslim world. All other religions have failed to produce such a forum for the exchange of international ideas and programmes. But it is regretted that Muslims have not yet awakened to the realization of Mecca being an international capital for the whole Muslim world. These are some of the material benefits and advantages to which reference has been made in the words, ‘that they may witness its benefits;’ and the words ‘and mention the Name of Allah,’ refer to the great spiritual benefits which Muslim can and should derive from the Pilgrimage to Mecca.”

What an expressive, eye-opening and scintillating demystification of the sociology of Hajj uncovered by this divine voice articulate! Again, what a pragmatic idealization of the essence of the annual Islamic global assembly, if only it can be transformed into reality!

Can the Current Mainstream Muslim World Movements and Leaders Walk the Talk?

To answer the above question in the affirmative would require we must have had on ground a divinely established leadership of a global stature within the mainstream Muslim world that would envision, initiate, mobilize, facilitate and coordinate such organization and cooperation for global reform, unification, integration, solidarization, fraternization for the peace and development of the Muslim peoples, countries and sects.   Unfortunately, however, with the present scenario of things, it is not certain that the contemporary Muslim political and religious leaders are capable of making such a sociological sense of the Hajj to address the challenges facing the global Muslim world.

How can they be able to make it when, even, since the foundation in 1945 of the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt; in 1949 of the Islamic World Congress in Karachi, India; in 1962 of the World Muslim League in Mecca, Saudi Arabia; and in 1970 of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as an umbrella organization for Islamic governments, none of these organizations has so far been able to resolve recurring Muslims’ global socio-political and religious issues and integrate, unite and solidarize the Muslim countries, sects and peoples?

More so, can the present crops of leaders of the Muslim world make any difference? The answer is equally an emphatic no. The world cannot possibly quickly forget how, following the September 2015 stampede and crush of pilgrims resulted in the death of at least 2,426 people, according to an Associated Press count, many news outlets like Reuters, Middle East online and Rabwah Times among others, reported on Tuesday, 6th September, 2016, an emotionally charged public pronouncement credited to the Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamenei, in which he ‘slammed Saudi Arabia for poorly managing the hajj pilgrimage, saying the country virtually “murdered” the Muslims who perished in last year’s stampede.  He also accused the Saudis, whom he called “small and puny satans,” of “treason” for failing to provide sufficient security for the hajj, saying “they had been too busy catering to the United States to arrange it.” “Saudi rulers… are disgraced and misguided people. [They] tremble for fear of jeopardizing the interests of the Great Satan, the US,” Rabwah Times further reported the Iranian Leader as proposing that “Because of Saudi rulers’ oppressive behavior towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj…” 

Expectedly, this was then greeted with a sharp reaction from the then Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and interior minister, Mohammad bin Nayef who, in a report filed by Saudi state news agency SPA, was quoted as saying that ‘Iran was merely trying to “politicize” the hajj, while warning that the agitation could compromise the safety of pilgrims. Adding that, “The Iranian authorities don’t want the Iranian pilgrims to come here for reasons concerning the Iranians themselves.” More inflammatory was the response from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Azeez Ali al-Sheikh, that: ‘Iranians are not Muslims; they are children of Magi and their hostility towards Muslims is an old one.’

Any Ray of Hope?       

However, any objective observer can notice a potential catalyst in the relevant leadership directions emerging from the successive Supreme Heads of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, particularly, the Third Khalifah, Hadhrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad (may Allah have mercy upon him). In a series of Friday sermons delivered by him in 1967, he enlightened the world about the twenty three great objectives behind the building of the Ka’ba, enunciated in seven verses of Surahs Al-Baqarah and Ali Imran, the 2nd and 3rd Chapters of the Holy Quran. Because of the scholastic originality and analytical precision that characterize the exposition, no modern student and scholar of Islamic religion should fail to research the profound sermons now published in book form – Twenty Three Great Objectives of Building the House of Allah – by Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, and accessible via alislam.org – the official website of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

In sum, he situated the Ka’ba as not only symbolizing the unity of God, but also the center for the unification of the Muslim peoples in particular, and humanity, in general; while the annual Pilgrimage to it serves as the collective journey by Muslim world towards the common direction of actualizing the unity and solidarity of the global human family. Furthermore, having outlined the blueprint for the actualization of this divine agenda, he emphatically declared that it would be ultimately championed by the leadership role and concerted effort and sacrifice of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Unfortunately, however, barely seven years after this manifesto, in 1974, the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was officially declared a non-Muslim organization and its members were banned from performing the Hajj by no other Muslim countries than Pakistan and Saudi Arabia! This reminds one of how the Holy Founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (saw) himself was once banned from performing Hajj by the non-Muslim forces in the early history of Islam.

Importantly, however, while the Community has continued to maintain non-violent, peaceful resistance to this anti-Islamic law, with the current Supreme worldwide Head of Ahmadiyya, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad’s (aba) peaceful outreach to the leaders of the Muslim and Western countries and the increasing global presence and influence that are being felt, a genuine wave of euphoria is beginning to surge within the collective mind of many Muslims that, through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Muslim world may, sooner than later, eventually realize the divinely promised global unification of humanity under the banner of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his Islamic religion.

Bibliography

  1. Maulawi Sher ‘Ali, The Holy Quran, Arabic Text and English Translation, (2014), Islam International Publications Ltd, UK
  2. The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, (2002), Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India
  3. Al-Faruqi, Ismail Raji, Tauhid – Its Implication for Thought and Life, 1982, Hemdon, VA: IIIT
  4. Hajj https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/hajj date accessed 30 July, 2019
  5. https://middle-east-online.com/en/saudi-cleric-says-iranians-are-not-muslims Date accessed 6 September, 2016
  6. https://www.rabwah.net/Saudi-arabias-grand-mufti-declares-iranians-are-not-muslims Date accessed 6 September, 2016
  7. https://www.reuters.com/articles-saudi-iran-mufti-idUSKCN11D0HV 
  8. Ahmad, Mirza Nasir, Twenty Three Great Objectives of Building the House of Allah, (2012), Islam International Publications Ltd, UK https://www.alislam.org/book/great-objectives-building-house-allah/ Date accessed 30 July, 2019

About the Writer:

Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo is a Missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Nigeria, the National Secretary of the Muslim Writers’ Guild of Nigeria, and a Correspondent of The Truth Newspaper, Nigeria.

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