By AFZAL AHMAD KHAN
Islam, as we know, is a religion of peace, tolerance, brotherhood and humanity. It preaches equal right to every human being irrespective of his/her colour, stature, profession, cast and creed. But among non-Muslims generally its image is linked with illiteracy, backwardness, extremism and terrorism.
However, if the sermons of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him), especially the last one delivered at Arafat during his only Hajj pilgrimage, is explained and propagated universally in its true spirit, it would not only clear the misunderstanding of non-Muslims about Islam but will also show the correct path to those Muslims who have side-tracked from the principles preached by him. In his sermons, he not only laid down the foundation of morality, modesty, justice, equality, goodwill and brotherhood, but also stressed to abolish the economic exploitation of the poor, human enslavement, apartheid, paganism, transgression and all systems that were against the interest of humanity.
It is universally known, that the very foundation of Islam is laid on its five pillars and each one of them has its own physical, psychological and spiritual importance. Similarly, Islamic prayers are not only a set of machine-like actions, but every movement and ritual has its own significance, implication and usefulness for the entire humanity. Touching all the five pillars will make this article very lengthy. Therefore, just to give broader conception of Islam, let us glance into the messages given in two of its five pillars i.e. Fasting and Hajj.
During the entire month of Ramadhan, we not only abstain from food, drink, tobacco and conjugal relations from dawn until sunset but we also purify our soul and body through endurance, discipline, restraint and self-control so that we can overcome our bad habits and addictions. Again during Ramadhan, we not only control the negative emotions, intense arguments, anger but also abstain from indecent acts, unnecessary talks and obscene conversations. So much so, that even when one is sure of being right, it is better to let that right go and keep one’s emotional fast intact. Staying hungry and thirsty also develops greater compassion towards the deprived ones and makes one feel the misery of millions who go hungry. During fasting, it is not the fasting of stomach only but every component of our body observes fast in its true spirit and refrains from every bad thing like evil thoughts, lying, greed and jealousy.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) is reported to have said:
“Allah has no need for the hunger and the thirst of the person who does not restrain himself from telling lies and acting on them even while observing the fast.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
However, during Ramadhan, a majority of our activities are confined from dawn to sunset and we perform most of the rituals individually while Islam lays great emphasis on collectivism. Two months after the end of Ramadhan, comes the month of Dhul-Hijja in which we perform the great pilgrimage to Makkah, known as Hajj. Here, we discard the individualism totally and men and women coming from every part of the planet follow the principle of collectivism in every ritual.
Before starting our journey towards Makkah, we divorce everything, which is symbolic of our personal identity, and we become members of a larger group that is not only one in dress, rituals, culture and behaviour, but also follows a twenty-four hours routine collectively like disciplined soldiers. While men use two unstitched sheets of ordinary white cloth for the coverage of their body, women cover their entire body including head with simple non-gaudy dresses. Thus, irrespective of their stature, everyone wears the same look by dress, action and behaviour which is symbolic of equality among every human being. In Ihram, damaging of plants and killing of animals is strictly prohibited which promotes environmental cleanness; similarly, conservation of water is also preached very strongly in Islam. The world has realised the importance of these precious things now, though Islam introduced it more than fourteen hundred years ago. In Makkah, we perform Tawaf by walking around Ka’abah and also perform Sai by walking between Safa and Marwah hills along with the sea of humanity, consisting of the rich and the poor, blacks and whites, Arabs and non-Arabs, kings/queens and ordinary persons, masters and their servants.
On the first official day of Hajj (8th of Dhul-Hijjah) we all move to Mina in a state of Ihram. We camp there in tents meant for men and women separately and every one irrespective of his stature lies side by side, on the same rug spread on ground and follows the mass routine like a disciplined soldier. We eat from the same plate, drink from the same glass and sleep on the same rug and pray collectively in the same tent.
The following morning, we travel from Mina to Arafat where everyone, again irrespective of their stature, pray or rest on the same rug laid on the stony ground. It was here that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) gave his last sermon and said that every human being is from Adam and Eve; therefore, except by piety and good action, differences created among their descendants on the grounds of race, wealth, colour of skin and domicile is wrong and should be totally abolished.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) preached not only for oneness of God and Freedom and Justice for everyone but also for universal goodwill and brotherhood, total discard of slavery system and absolutely no exploitation of necessity or weakness of anyone.
After sunset, we move from Arafat to Muzdalifa, and stay there in the night. In Mina and Arafat we rest or pray on a rug laid on the ground with a cover over our head in the shape of a tent. But in Muzdalfa we discard even that and everyone, again irrespective of their stature, passes the night on the barren rocky land under the open sky, naturally without any worldly comfort. This is the extreme of simplicity, self-control, self-discipline and devotion where everyone is trained to live even in the most adverse condition which many of us might have never faced before. Thus, during Hajj, we learn the skill and achieve the ability of discarding even those worldly comforts, which might be within our reach and this great achievement goes a long way in making our life simple and happy even in most adverse circumstances.
After passing the night in Muzdalfa, we return to Mina in the morning and after sacrificing a goat or sheep as a mark of our love and devotion for Allah, we throw seven pebbles at Satan as a token to keep it away from us because it brings negative and satanic thought in our mind which is the root cause of every evil in our personality.
The purpose of Hajj is not only to develop God-consciousness and a sense of spiritual uplift but also to discard the unnecessary worldly comforts and thus make the life, simple, easy, disciplined and free from every impurity and provides an opportunity for the persons of different nationalities, colours, languages, races, and ethnicities to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].”
Now the big question one can and should ask to self is how much we have adopted the training and rituals of Fasting and Hajj in its true spirit in our daily routine to get its full benefits, not only during the tenure of our life but also beyond this world. Unfortunately, the answer in most of the cases is not positive. In a majority of the cases, we observe fast and perform Hajj rituals like a machine without going into or bothering about the real spirit behind these actions.
Significant importance is given to the rituals that we perform, but the logic, purpose and the message behind those very rituals are forgotten. The economic, social and cultural aspects of these rituals have also been lost. The concept of sacrifice is totally missing from our character and we have become a part of the mad crowd, which is running after the worldly comforts even at the cost of others. Selfishness and jealousy is deeply rooted in our character and getting things, which may be even beyond our means, has become an inseparable part of our thinking. Our selfish approach of grabbing others’ wealth by hook or crook has not only given way to heinous crimes like arson, looting, dacoity, rioting, murder, kidnapping, rape in society but battles and wars at the international level as we have seen all over the world in the past and are seeing even today, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Though we have seen the disastrous consequences of these misadventures committed in the past but unfortunately, we have probably not learnt any lesson from this because the planning and efforts for adding more countries in the aforesaid list is in the pipeline.
The root cause of these entire inhuman acts is just to capture other’s wealth and to establish one’s own superiority. We have totally forgotten the art of tolerance and restraint, instead anger and impatience are ruling over our mind. We are hell bent to take revenge even at the slightest provocation. Individualism is so glaring and dominant that the basic concept of collectivism as preached in Islam is almost gone or has taken a back seat.
Thus we have not only forgotten the true spirit of Fasting and Hajj but also the sermons of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) especially the last one delivered at Arafat during his only Hajj pilgrimage. If tolerance, restraint, simplicity, self-control and self-discipline as we practise during Ramadhan and Hajj and the principles of goodwill, unity, justice, equality and brotherhood preached by our Blessed Prophet are followed universally, we will not only get the solution to every problem but will also make this world a very happy and peaceful place where all its inhabitants will enjoy regardless of their ethnic connection, faith and colour.