The Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is the last of the five obligatory pillars for Muslims. It is a human-defining, behaviour-refining and life-revitalizing moment that is supposed to endure until our last breath.
It is an explicit acknowledgement of the historical link to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and those prophets before him, including Prophet Abraham. It is a character-building pillar that changes our outlook: From whom we are to what we represent and, finally, how we treat family, friend and foe.
Yet, as human beings with shortcomings that we attempt to overcome every day, the post-hajj period is the real test of taqwa, (an awareness of surroundings and people), appreciation (bounties of the Almighty) and admiration (of the Almighty). And, it must be passed. It is in this period of time until we meet our Maker that one truly understands the formalism (instructions) of the Hajj versus the much sought-after life-long spiritual connection of the Hajj.
All Muslims are the same in the requirement of following the five pillars: Belief in oneness of God, establish daily prayers, pay zakat (alms), fast during month of Ramadan and perform the Hajj (if one has the financial means and physical/mental capacity). However, not all Muslims are the same in interpreting their belief systems.
Muslims are not monolithic. There are many kinds of Muslims, and lay-man-connecting-to-masses may well categorize them into two well-buckets: (1) religious and (2) religiously aware. It is accepted that one can be both religious and religiously aware. But, for purpose of highlighting without causing division, it’s a dichotomy that is often raised by non-Muslims.
Muslims may be intellectuals, idealists, secularists, or people with challenging encounters with, “hardliners” like the moral police. However, the common denominator is they are all Muslims. These people may well have the best of intentions for their “brothers and sisters.” However, a disconnect typically arises based upon reading and interpretations of religious scripture.
But, if the job of passing judgement is taken by the Creator and not by his creations, then what does the post-hajj period mean for such Muslims?
The excitement and exuberance in preparing to be invited to the House of Allah cannot be articulated with present day secular language. The preparation entails the easy (asking friends and family about the Hajj), the challenging (packing and physical), and the difficult (emotions and being away from families).
When the date of departure is far away, it’s like the excitement and pride of enrolling in an ivy league Hajj school. But, as the day arrives, the PhD defence is laden with so many raw emotions and to-do check lists, including “… did I seek forgiveness …” from all those whom I may have inadvertently hurt? However, the nerves calm (temporarily) after we see a sea of like people at the air or seaport. The unity and simplicity of the outfit combined with the purity of thought of hundreds of thousand Muslims at thousands of terminals around the world without a single dress rehearsal, — this has to be one the major wonders of humanity.
[Even the people at airport check-in counters and immigration officers have a smile and mannerisms that convey the request of “… please pray for me also…” It’s a shame that such good feelings towards their fellow kind does not roll over the other 330 plus days.]
Feeling the Hajj
The Hajj itself is a highly personal experience laden with variety of raw emotions (some not comprehensible), physical endurance of a tri-athlete (brink of exhaustion), stampede-like crowd chaos (near life threatening encounters) combined with hygiene challenges on food, restrooms and more.
However, the human spirit cannot be held down by these “distractions,” as the adrenalin of seeing Masjid Haraam (the Grand Mosque) and the Holy Ka’ba transforms the weak into having the strength and charisma of “The 99,” superheroes based on Islamic culture and the religion.
(I wonder about those purchasing the premium hajj package, if they miss out on “enduring the hardship” of the once in a lifetime experience? Or, for selected political leaders who get the “escort hajj,” – can they can relate to the hardship of the man on the street?)
When exactly does post Hajj begin for an individual? In what way does this really manifest and what are the measures of these manifestations? How starkly different are we suppose to be as a person post-Hajj? Should there be external indicators, or are the real true indicators so internalised that it is known only to us and our Almighty?
This question has been around so extensively in many parts of the world, that some demonstrate “a new person” struggling to keep pace with coherence and external pressures. There are also those who seemingly remain the same but have deeper connect to nature and the Almighty: Their purpose in life changes, and more importantly they cease to live for rules and traditions of the moment or times. They may stop living for others. They may elevate themselves to a higher spiritual order, detaching themselves from their surrounding, yet still remaining well in touch with their surroundings.
Thus, the post Hajj period is what the Hajj is really about, as the “reborn you” is closer to the reflection of “ideal you” in the mirror. Thus, there are some/many ‘Hajji Muslims’ who become role models for the family, community and country by meeting the redemptive aspects of the Hajj.
For others, it’s a continuous internal struggle to find the Hajj equilibrium. Is it because they were too young to perform the Hajj? Old enough, but immature? Incorrect rationale (peer pressure)? Ill prepared on the post-hajj behaviour modification? Or lacking a support system?
Some examples of challenges in the post-Hajj environment may include:
• Inability to wear hijab (headscarf) or engage in modest dressing
• Inability to establish regular prayers
• Inability to detach from a secular lifestyle
• Inability to understand patience, tolerance and peace towards others
However, are they “non-conforming” Muslims? The answer lies only with the Almighty.
Your Real Self
The Hajj is about getting to your real self, which most fail to get to know. It is about getting to the “self,” as part of spiritual self-actualization, who will ultimately face the Almighty to account for the journey we have each chosen to live in this life. This pilgrimage, as with other four pillars in Islam, is meant to take us closer to that self.
To go on this pilgrimage is to set ourselves to really dissecting who we really are as a person beyond the trajectories that binds us externally, beyond the many facets of life which sometimes define us.
Hajj is simply about figuring out “us.” That has to be the ultimately purpose and outcome of this once-in-lifetime journey to the House of Allah. Ameen.
The orginal version of this article was published in The Indian Muslim Observer. Rushdi Siddiqui is the Global Head of Islamic Finance and OIC Countries at Thomson Reuters.