The Hajj, or major pilgrimage, is the annual visit to Mecca to commemorate the Abrahamic tradition and Abraham’s sacrifices. Hajj is an Arabic word that means “to intend a journey”. It is the fifth pillar of Islam, which every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime, provided they are financially and physically able to do so. It falls in the month of Dhul Hijjah every year. The completion of Hajj is marked with the celebration of Eid al-Azha, or Bakrid.
Millions of Hujjaj (pilgrims) from different countries, different ethnicities, different races, different cultures, different languages, and different backgrounds all gather to circumambulate the Kaabah, signifying the unity of one God. They are united on one common ground: they worship only one God. The plain white clothing (Ihram) signifies that there is no difference between a black and a white, the western and the eastern, and the rich and the poor. Each one of them is equal before God.
Martin Lings, an English writer, philosopher, and student of the Swiss metaphysician Frithjof Schuon and an authority on the work of William Shakespeare, shares his insights about Hajj during his visit in 1948 as follows:
“This voluntary rite, which the vast majority of Moslems are never able to perform, remains none the less a secret dimension in Islam, hidden from all those who have not actually explored it for themselves, and this dimension is the link between the present moment and the past. It is by no means only in virtue of the Pilgrimage that Islam is named “the religion of Abraham” and “the primordial religion”; but the Pilgrimage is an eloquent demonstration of what these names imply, for it is not only a journey in space to the center towards which one has always turned one’s face in prayer, but also a journey in time far back beyond the missions of Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses.”
The command of Hajj and sacrifice is mentioned particularly in Surah Al Hajj as follows:
And [mention, O Muammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the house, [saying], “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My house for those who perform awf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the ajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass—that they may witness [i.e., attend] benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known [i.e., specific] days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. So eat of them and feed the miserable and poor. Then let them end their untidiness, fulfill their vows, and perform awf around the ancient house.” That [has been commanded], and whoever honors the sacred ordinances of Allah, it is best for him in the sight of his Lord. And permitted to you are the grazing livestock, except for what is recited to you. So avoid the uncleanliness of idols and avoid false statements [Surah Al Hajj: 26–30].
From a sociological perspective, every year, pilgrims from all over the world travel to perform the Hajj. Numerous distinctions separate these people, yet Islam is the sole factor that unites them. Everyone performs Hajj in the same way, demonstrating equality, togetherness, purity, and hope despite their inequalities in wealth and appearance. Differences in nations and social class are eliminated by wearing Ihram, which strengthens an individual’s identity as a worshipper of one God.
Malcolm X, an American activist, describes the sociological atmosphere he experienced at his Hajj in the 1960s as follows:
“There were tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe could never exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases the race problem from its society. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. However, what I have seen and experienced on this pilgrimage has forced me to reorganize many of my previously held thought patterns.
“During the past seven days of this holy pilgrimage, while undergoing the rituals of the hajj [pilgrimage], I have eaten from the same plate, drank from the same glass, slept on the same bed or rug, and prayed to the same God—not only with some of this earth’s most powerful kings, cabinet members, potentates, and other forms of political and religious rulers —but also with fellow Muslims whose skin was the whitest of white, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, and whose hair was the blondest of blond—yet it was the first time in my life that I didn’t see them as ‘white’ men. I could look into their faces and see that they didn’t regard themselves as ‘white’.
“Their belief in the Oneness of God (Allah) had actually removed the ‘white’ from their minds, which automatically affected their attitude and behavior toward people of other colors. Their belief in the Oneness of God has actually made them so different from American whites that their outer physical characteristics played no part at all in my mind during all my close associations with them.”
A 2008 study on the impact of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslim communities became more positive and tolerant after the Hajj experience. Titled Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering, conducted in conjunction with Harvard University, the study noted that the Hajj “increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment” and that “Hajjis show increased belief in peace, equality, and harmony among adherents of different religions.”
“While the Hajj may help forge a common Islamic identity, there is no evidence that this is defined in opposition to non-Muslims. On the contrary, the notions of equality and harmony appear to extend to adherents of other religions as well. These results contrast sharply with the view that increased Islamic orthodoxy goes hand in hand with extremism.”
Muhammad Ali, the American professional boxer and activist, shares his experience of Hajj as follows:
“I have had many nice moments in my life, but the feelings I had while standing on Mount Arafat on the day of the Hajj were the most unique. I felt exalted by the indescribable spiritual atmosphere as over one and a half million pilgrims invoked God to forgive them for their sins and bestow on them His choicest blessings.”
The Hajj reminds us that worshipping our Creator is the main goal of life. Humanity should only be united under the guidance of a single God and his eternally guiding commandments. The Hajj pilgrimage instills in a person’s heart the value of seeking God’s protection and the pleasure of achieving divine propinquity. As God Almighty says, “Flee unto God. [Surah Az-Zariyat: 50]