Islamic Perspectives

We have failed the spirit of Ramadan and Hajj

We have not only forgotten the true spirit of Roza and Hajj but also the sermons of our Prophet especially the last one delivered at Arafat

By Afzal Ahmad Khan

Islam is very much misunderstood among the non-Muslims and its general image is linked with illiteracy, backwardness and terrorism. However, if the sermons of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), 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 among the non-Muslims 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, chastity, modesty, justice, equality, brotherhood, and accountability but also abolished the economic exploitation, human enslavement, apartheid, paganism, transgression and all systems that were against the interests of human beings and humanity.  

As we know, the basic 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 rituals; instead, every movement, every action, has its own significance, implication and usefulness for the human beings.

During the entire month of Ramadan, we practice fasting and abstain from food, drink, tobacco and conjugal relations from dawn till sunset. The month of Ramadan is to purify ourselves and for training our soul and body through endurance, self-control, self-discipline and self-restraint so that we can overcome our bad habits. Staying hungry and thirsty not only purifies one’s soul and thought but also develops greater compassion towards the deprived ones and makes one feel the misery of millions who go hungry.  

However, that is only the physical component of our fast or Roza. Its spiritual aspects include refraining from lying, slandering and all traits of evil to enable the person psychologically to control evil thoughts and to train them to overcome stinginess and greed. During fasting, it is not the Roza of stomach only but every part of our body which observes Roza in its true spirit and refrains from everything bad. The Prophet (SAW) was 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).  

Thus, Roza teaches us not only to control the negative emotions like lewd conversation, heated arguments, anger, jealousy, greed but also to 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 fast intact. Roza not only helps in controlling the destructive emotions like anger but also helps to overcome the negative thinking and jealousy and gives the ability to save us from bad habits like addiction.

However, majority of physical activities related with Ramadan are confined from dawn to sunset and except for prayers in mosques (that too for men only), we do everything individually at a place of our convenience while Islam lays great emphasis on collectivism. Two months after the end of Ramadan, 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 a member of a larger group which is not only one in dress, rituals, culture and behavior, but also follows a twenty-four hour routine collectively like a disciplined army.

Before arriving in Makkah, we enter in a state of dedication known as Ihram by discarding our worldly clothes and putting on simple non-gaudy dresses. If we minutely observe the human psychology about the dressing pattern, the natural tendency among men and women is to cover their body with the best possible cloth of preferred color and design, tailored in the best design. In case of women, even jewellery plays an important part in the development of their personality. However, in Ihram, we discard these entire worldly garbs and put on very simple dresses. While men use two unstitched sheets of ordinary white cloth for covering their body the women cover their entire body with simple non-gaudy dresses with scarves covering their head fully. Thus, irrespective of their stature, everyone gives the same look by dress, action and behavior which are symbolic of equality among human beings in front of Allah. This dress code has to be strictly observed by everyone because it is a pre-condition for performing the Hajj. In Ihram, not only killing of animals and damaging of plants is prohibited but entering into sexual relationship with the life partner is also forbidden.

Once in Makkah, we perform Tawaf by moving around Kabah on feet along with the sea of human beings, consisting of rich and poor, blacks and whites, Arabs and non-Arabs. However, the persons unable to walk on their feet due to physical handicaps take a wheel chair. Similar is the case in Sai when we walk hurriedly between Safa and Marwah hills.

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 and everyone irrespective of his status lies side by side on the same rug laid on sandy 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 to Allah collectively in the same tent.

The following morning, we travel from Mina to Arafat where everyone, prays, sits or rests on the same rug laid on the stony ground, highlighting again the simplicity of Islam and equality of all human beings in front of Allah. It was here that the Prophet (SAW) gave his last sermon in which he preached freedom and justice for everyone, equality for every race, rights and obligations of women, rights of others and total ban on exploitations. He said that all mankind is from Adam and Eve; therefore except by piety and good action, differences created among their descendents on the grounds of race, wealth, color of skin and domicile is wrong and should be totally abolished. The Prophet (SAW) preached not only for oneness of God but also for universal brotherhood, irrespective of differences in color, race and wealth.

After sunset we move from Arafat to Muzdalifa, a site between Mina and Arafat and stay there in the night. In Mina and Arafat, we remain in tents and thus have at least a temporary cover of a sheet of cloth over our head, but in Mudzalfa we discard even that one and everyone irrespective of his/her stature, passes the night on the barren stony land under the open sky. Here we discard every physical comfort and pass the night truly like a saint or Sufi who is absolutely away from every 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 earlier. While the general tendency among the human beings is to acquire worldly comforts as soon as they can, contrarily during Hajj; we learn the skill and achieve the ability of discarding those comforts, even though they might be within our reach. This is a great and invaluable achievement which goes a long way in making our lives simple and happy even in the most adverse circumstances.   

After passing the night in Mudzalfa, we return back to Mina in the morning and after sacrificing a goat or sheep as a token of our love and sacrifice for Allah, we throw seven pebbles at Satan which brings evil thought in our mind

The Hajj is designed not only to develop God consciousness and a sense of spiritual upliftment but also to discard the worldly comforts and make the life, simple, easy, disciplined and free from every impurity. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].”

The pilgrimage also enables pilgrims of different nationalities, colors, languages, races, and ethnicities to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship Allah together.  

Now the big question that one can ask is how much have we followed the training and rituals of Roza 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 majority of the cases is negative. We observe Roza and perform Hajj rituals in a very mechanized way. 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 also get lost. We have become a part of the mad crowd which is running after the worldly comforts blindly. The selfishness and jealousy is deeply rooted in our characters and getting things which may be even beyond our means has become an inseparable part of our pursuit. This madness has given way to heinous crimes like arson, looting, docoity, rioting, murder, kidnapping, rape in society and battle and war at the international level. We have totally forgotten the art of tolerance and restraint, instead the anger and impatience are ruling over our mind. We are hell bent to take revenge even at the slightest provocation. The 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 Roza and Hajj but also the sermons of our Prophet (SAW) especially the last one delivered at Arafat during his only Hajj pilgrimage. If the tolerance, restraint, simplicity, self-control and self-discipline as we practice during Ramadan and Hajj and the principles of morality, modesty, justice, equality and brotherhood preached by our Prophet (SAW) are followed universally, we will not only get the solution of every problem but will also make this world a very happy and peaceful place where all the inhabitants will enjoy bliss regardless of their ethnic connection, faith and color. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2010 on page no. 28

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