Such a place is held in fear and awe. But in our Abrahamic religion, we move towards that place, through our fear and awe, to find love and stillness. Where the greatest crowds on earth come together, we find peace. The faces of those who have just returned from Hajj reawaken the desire for the House in all who see them. ‘And truly with hardship comes ease.’ Abraham is told this: ‘And announce the Hajj to mankind! They will come on foot, on every lean beast, from every narrow ravine.’ God commanded, and promised; and the Hajj shows how He honours His promises. The ‘valley without crops’ is sterile and austere, ringed by jagged peaks: Uqhuwana, Khandama, Thawr, Hira’. The culmination of Hajj, at Arafat, is the simplest and most ancient of rituals: simply standing ‘where tears fall and prayers rise’, with two million broken hearts. The beauty is in the rigorous ancient austerity of the rites, but also in the faces of a thousand races, all filled, as the sun sets, with the light of knowledge, and the hope for forgiveness.
The City draws in these lovers of God each year, and then sends them home, like a heart pumping blood through the body. Most pilgrims have not come before, and as they approach, chanting the reply to God’s command to Abraham: ‘At Your service, here I am!’, their hearts begin to melt at the unfamiliar sights and rituals. Stripping away all their pretentiousness, they wind on the ihram, as though ready for the grave and its questioning angels. At once, memories long suppressed bubble up to the surface. The light of the Ka’bah makes us see our sins, and as we look within we are horrified by what we see. Forgetfulness, stupidity, laziness, cruelty, and more, in sins repeated year after year. Wrongs never put right, hearts still unhealed, come to mind painfully. The entry to the City is a time of fear, for there is no fear greater than that we might go to our graves unforgiven. The forms of Hajj must be obeyed; but acceptance is God’s alone and is not in our power...
‘The accepted Hajj has no reward other than the Garden’, the hadith tells us. The Hajj is a purgation: uncomfortable and physically exhausting. Following the rules crushes the ego. Once round the Ka’bah can take an hour, but the pilgrim must circle it seven times. The crowds are immense, the heat staggering, the accommodation basic. Many who find a scrap of cardboard on which to sleep consider themselves fortunate. But at the end: a new birth, as the successful pilgrim ‘leaves his sins behind like a newborn child.’
Part of the spiritual power of the Hajj lies in its inculcation of wisdom. We may return to many of our ugly habits. But the memory of a sudden encounter with the ‘clear signs of God’, and of the power of repentance, stays with the pilgrim, as a reminder of the urgency of our need to remain pure of heart, and close to our Lord. Often, decades later, a memory of the Hajj can pull a sinful man or woman out of apparently hopeless vice. In that sense, the Hajj never comes to an end.
... Hajj - An Inward Voyage, Abdal Hakim Murad