Secrets of Haj
(English translation of Imam Al-Ghazali's Kitab Asraril Hajj)
Translator: Ibrahim Umar
Pages: 176 p/b
Price: MYR 15/ Rs. 195
Publisher: Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur / Distributor in India: Other Books, Railway Link Road, Calicut
On the pilgrimage of Islam, 'how to' books are galore in markets. Works on the spiritual, theological and philosophical significance of the pilgrimage are also available, if not plenty. As is the case with every rite in Islam, Hajj (the greater, annual pilgrimage) and umrah (the lesser pilgrimage at any time of the year except Hajj days) are to be performed as per the norms set forth in the holy texts, while, simultaneously, they require from believers, for their perfection, an understanding about the role of pilgrimage in the history of religion as well as in the growth of a religious personality.
Ali Shariati's Hajj and Michael Wolf's Hadj will help a pilgrim realise his/her acts and aims in historical and psychological perspectives respectively. Also what a pilgrim feels, thinks, identifies with, and finally realizes are scattered here and there in other works like Muhammad Asad's Road to Mecca.
Jurisprudence, history and philosophy are all required to perfectly understand the content of Hajj.
And they are all inextricably interlaced in Hujjathul Islam Al Ghazali's (1058-1111) 'The Secrets of Pilgrimage.' This is a translation of 'Kitab al Asrarul Hajj, the seventh chapter of Ghazali's magnum opus Ihya Uloomuddin (Revival of Religious Sciences). The book, translated by Ibrahim Umar , was brought out by Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur, and distributed in India by Other Books, Calicut. IBT has already published 'Deliverance from error and the Beginning of Guidance' and 'The Alchemy of Happiness' based on Ihya.
The secret of pilgrimage is divided into three chapters. The first chapter deals with the merit of pilgrimage and the holy lands Makkah and Medina. It also puts forth the criteria which determine its obligatory nature. The second chapter deals with the outward acts from the beginning to end. The third chapter is all about the exact properties, hidden mysteries and inner (psychological) acts of the pilgrimage.
That which has made Ihya a classic of all times is Hujjathul Islam's philosophical insight with which he delves deep into the dos and don'ts in Islam. An example can be taken from that part of Secret, where Imam Ghazali discusses the aversion some scholars had for one's staying in Makkah long after the pilgrimage. One of the three reasons for the aversion, Ghazali says, is the requisite separation that inflames love and calls for the continuation of the pilgrimage. It's only by separation from Makkah that one will be drawn to the holy land. By getting accustomed, 'one will feel boredom and the burning reverence of heart will be tempered. Ghazali quotes one of the righteous predecessors as saying, 'many men in Khurassan are nearer to the house than he who circumambulates it.' What Ghazali speaks at this point is the spiritual significance of true love, which grows beyond space and time. He says: 'Separation from Makkah arouses longing, inciting the motive to return.
This is what English poet John Donne (1572-1631) echoes:
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion.
Makkah was the fixed foot of a compass, around which the culture of Islam roamed and toward which it made a homecoming.
The small book, rendered delectably into English, deserves to be kept not as a handbook but as a companion among our provisions. For Allah asks us to make provisions for the pilgrimage, emphasizing all at once that the best provision is piety (2:197).
Sure, if a pilgrim reads the book many times over, it will help him/her attain the best of all provisions.