The Hajj paradigm: Islam’s most legitimate narrative
Perhaps, the purest, and most poignant visual narrative of what Islam really stands for at its core is the visual takeaway of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca called Hajj. Every sane, adult Muslim who is physically and financially able is required to perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. A religious scholar, an illiterate farmer, an international banker, a tribal Bedouin, a head of state, a decorated soldier, and a cab driver, each are all required to perform the Hajj in the exact same manner, and each are equally required to wear the exact same style and color of clothing, donned and draped in the exact same way, and to repeat from their mouths, the exact same words:
Labbaik Allahumma labbaik, unna al-hamda, wa ni’mata laka wal shukr, laa shareeka lak… (Here I come oh Lord, here I come. Here I come you have no partners here I come, surely all praise, all grace and good, and all thanks belongs to You, You have no partners.)
While people are circling around the Ka’ba in Islam’s holiest Mosque, it is impossible to distinguish the rich from the poor, the immoral from the virtuous, the farmer from the engineer, the convert from the born Muslim, or the Ph.D. from the illiterate. Nor is it possible to define with any accuracy what a person’s ethnicity, group, nationality, or language is. The only considerations which determine incongruence between one pilgrim and the other during Hajj is their faith, their God consciousness (taqwa), each person’s individual physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge, and the personal prayer of each pilgrim as they perform the required rites of the Hajj as guests of God.
Hajj is the only place on earth, and the only season of the Islamic calendar year, where race, power, preference, position, status, ethnicity, or politics have no standing. There are no lands to conquer, no identities to define, no Islamophobia to fight, no images of Islam or Muslims to defend, no organizations to speak on your behalf, no counter-narrative to advance, no talking points to memorize, no television cameras to prep for, and no one to convince you of your legitimacy or sincerity except the Almighty God. During the Hajj, all that is left is submission to Allah and the reality that every Muslim has the same rights and obligations as every other Muslim. The only recognized enemy and the only object of aggression during Hajj are the three stones that pilgrims throw against the Devil, because, according to Allah, he is our greatest enemy.
It was during the Hajj, that the Prophet (SAWS) delivered his farewell sermon. He unequivocally declared,
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over black nor does a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action. Know that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves. Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.”
The words of the Prophet are a relevant today as they were spoken more than fourteen hundred years ago, perhaps even more so. The Hajj is a yearly reminder that we all are equal in the sight of Allah, and that we only excel above one another through taqwa. The Hajj also reminds us that we do not judge a book by its cover. The Prophet said,
“Verily Allah does not look at your shapes or your bodies but He looks at your hearts”.
The type of equality embodied in the Hajj is the type of justice that the Prophet spoke of during his farewell sermon. This is the kind of justice that makes us unafraid to look in the mirror at ourselves, the kind of justice that depoliticizes our religion, and the type of justice where we do not simply move from campaign to campaign, but stand firm on principles. This is the type of justice upon which Allah created human beings:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”. (Surah 49, verse 13)
Indeed, Islam has been hijacked, not only by groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, but also by nationalism, racism, elite, ethnocentricity, political Islamism, warmongering propaganda, violent extremism, and sectarian demagoguery, each claiming to represent the totality of Islam. Islam is the religion of Allah, He owns it, and we are all His slaves. We can reclaim our faith by returning it to its rightful owner, and that is God Almighty, and no one else.
Resurrecting the Hajj paradigm and picking up the cause of justice and equality in our faith is a daunting proposition for many Muslims, but its time has come, and we will be much better off for it. It all comes down to being fair and just as individuals and as an Ummah. One of the most difficult things about upholding justice is that you sometimes have to stand up against your own self, and to people who are just like you, who belong to your group, your ideology, your race, your nationality, or your organization, in defense of someone who is different than you.
Injustice is our Berlin Wall, whose mortar is an amalgamation of racism, nationalism, elitism, denial, political Islam, violent extremism, tribalism, and various forms of sectarianism added to the mixture over a course of centuries. On the other side of the wall is the true Islam, which belongs to no one except Allah be He Exalted and Just. There can never be any true Islam without justice, and there can never be justice without equality. In order for Muslims to move forward as a civilization, we will have to tear down the Berlin wall of injustice that exists in our faith practice. It may have to be dismantled brick by brick, section by section, pebble by pebble, but sooner or later, Allah be my witness, I believe that eventually, it will come down.