As the millions of Muslims return home – safely, I pray – from the Hajj, I cannot help but reflect over the last rituals of the Hajj: the stoning of the pillars. This part of the Hajj can be the most dangerous, as millions of pilgrims are cramped in a very small space at the same time. This part of the Hajj has seen a number of tragic incidents of stampedes, killing hundreds on several occasions. My wife and I were nearly trampled upon when we performed the Hajj four years ago. (Incidentally, my brother and sister – who went on the Hajj this year – told us that the stoning ritual was very easy this year due to the changes that were made by the Saudi government).
Yet, what does the stoning ritual represent? What does it mean? Of course, the ritual is performed in honor of Abraham ( pbuh). When he was on his way to fulfill the command of God and kill his own son in sacrifice to God, the Devil approached him on three occasions in an effort to dissuade him from his task. Each time, my father Abraham ( pbuh) stoned the Accursed One, and thus the pilgrims do the same.
And so many pilgrims really take this ritual seriously. So many pilgrims become very emotional during the stoning ritual, as if they actually see and stone the Devil himself. Many pilgrims even throw their sandals at the stone pillars, and you can hear many curses being hurled at the pillars. Yet, what lesson should we take from this ritual? What can we learn – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – from the spectacle of Muslim faithful stoning a pillar representing Satan in honor of the patriarch Abraham (pbuh)?
This ritual reminds us of our real enemy. Right now in Iraq, the Sunnis fight the Shia as their enemy. The Shia fight the Sunnis as their enemy. Yet, in Mecca during the Hajj, both Sunni and Shi’i stand together and stone the Devil. Thus, our real enemy is not the Sunni or Shi’i. Our real enemy is not Jews and Christians. Nay, our real enemy is Satan and his forces. The Qur’an is explicitly clear on this issue:
O you who have attained to faith! Surrender yourselves wholly unto God, and follow not Satan’s footsteps, for, verily, he is your open enemy. (2:208)
O humankind! Partake of what is lawful and good on earth, and follow not Satan’s footsteps, for, verily, he is your open enemy. (2:168)
And of the cattle reared for work and for the sake of their flesh, eat whatever God has provided for you as sustenance, and follow not Satan’s footsteps: behold, he is your open enemy. (6:142)
And tell my servants that they should speak in the most kindly manner [unto those who do not share their beliefs]: verily, Satan is always ready to stir up discord between men – for, verily , Satan is humanity’s open enemy! (17:53)
Behold, Satan is an enemy unto you: so treat him as an enemy. He but calls on his followers to the end that they might find themselves among such as are destined for the blazing flame. (35:6)
And, behold, this [divine writ] is indeed a means to know [that] the Last Hour [is bound to come]; hence, have no doubt whatever about it, but follow Me: this [alone] is a straight way. and let not Satan bar you [from it] – for, verily, he is your open enemy ! (43:61-62)
It is Satan who is the real enemy: it is against he that we must all unite. It is against his machinations that we must all fight: not each other. It is as the Qur’an said:
“… verily Satan is always ready to stir up discord between men…” (17:53). He is – as the Qur’an describes – “the whispering, elusive tempter who whispers in the hearts of people… ” (114:4-5).
It was he who led our father and mother to be expelled from the Garden:
And [as for thee], O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in this garden, and eat, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become evildoers. Thereupon Satan whispered unto the two with a view to making them conscious of their nakedness, of which [hitherto] they had been unaware; and he said: “Your Sustainer has but forbidden you this tree lest you two become [as] angels or lest you live forever.” And he swore unto them, “Verily, I am of those who wish you well indeed!” and thus he led them on with deluding thoughts… (7:19-22)
And out of this story comes the Divine admonition:
O children of Adam! Do not allow Satan to seduce you in the same way as he caused your ancestors to be driven out of the garden… (7:27)
Thus, we should heed the warning of the Lord our God and not allow Satan to deceive us into fighting each other; killing each other for no good reason; hating each other for the color of the other’s skin; neglecting those of us in need; calling each other “the enemy” when, truly, our enemy is Satan. We must be very careful against his machinations, because, he vowed unto God:
“Now that Thou has thwarted me, I shall certainly lie in ambush for them all along They straight way and shall most certainly fall upon them openly as well as in a manner beyond their ken, and from their right and from their left: and most of them Thou will find ungrateful.” (7:16-17)
We must be very careful against his machinations, because, we bear ultimate responsibility for our actions. “The Devil made me do it” is not an adequate excuse; it will not suffice to protect us from being taken to account for our actions. In fact, Satan himself will tell all those who followed him exactly that:
And when everything will have been decided, Satan will say: “Behold, God promised you something that was bound to come true! I, too, held out [all manner of] promises to you, but I deceived you. Yet, I had no power at all over you: I but called you and you responded to unto me. Hence, do not blame me, but blame your own selves. It is not for me to respond to your cries, nor for you to respond to mine: for, behold, I have [always] refused to admit that there was any truth in your erstwhile belief that I had a share in God’s divinity.” Verily, for all evildoers there is grievous suffering in store. (14:22)
What a vicious enemy indeed. What a malignant foe indeed. With such an enemy constantly at war with us, how can we waste time fighting each other? How can we not see that it is Satan who is the enemy? Let us resolve, in this year 2007, to stop throwing stones at each other and start throwing stones at Satan: our real enemy.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.