What is The Hajj All About?


by Aijaz Manzoor

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In Imam Ghazali’s words, “Hajj is the perfection of Islam as a Din”.

How does one negotiate the relevance of faith and its relation with the Beyond-Being in an age that philosopher Charles Taylor has aptly described as “a secular age”, an age where not only has non-faith or for that matter anti-faith become an alternative mode of being but an undeniable, protected and respected individual preference?

In an age where “encountering God” beyond the prescribed private spaces can render one vulnerable to the charge of disturbing the secular ethos of a public sphere characteristically defined by an imposing “distancing away” from faith and its associated praxis, how can a metaphysics of meaning defined only by its relation to the absolute Reality be fathomable?

How in an age of metaphysical and spiritual poverty and of limited epistemological acumen, the rituals of faith can communicate their primordial essence and significance without being susceptible to the charge of being nothing but a fanatic preservance and observance of a meaningless practice?

The practice of Hajj is firmly rooted in the theological, political and metaphysical orbits of Islamic terminology. However, in ascertaining its meaning, a dogmatic insistence on one particular aspect would reduce it either to a theological essentiality opposed to any philosophical construction or to a sporadic political excitement berefting the ritual of its inexhaustible potential for spiritual ascendency and excellence.

Unfortunately, the prominent Muslim discourse on Hajj and its significance has tended to swing back and forth between these two extreme positions neither in the end being able to communicate the essence of the practice. Being a practice associated with the father of most Semitic religions, the Prophet Ibrahim, the usual Muslim theological discourse does not venture beyond describing Hajj as a remembrance of the “great trial” that God made Ibrahim go through by demanding the sacrifice of his beloved son Ismail or for a formidable spontaneous escape from the hateful reminder of seemingly irreversible political misfortunes of the Muslim world, as the largest transcendental political conglomerate on earth in the Islamist interpretive discourse on Islam.

Does aesthetics, the innate human proclivity for beauty (Jamal) in any way correspond to the practice of Hajj or is Hajj just a jurisprudential rendering of a relation defined by dictates of a Necessary Being conveyed to a contingent being for mere obedience? The larger question, however, is whether Islam as a faith is in any way accommodative of aesthetic urgencies in human beings or not. For those who consider Islam like Judaism as a “documentary faith” or a faith with pedantic jurisprudential orientations and contestations, the only possible relationship between Islam and aesthetics is that of perennial incompatibility and hostility.

True that unlike the “faith of love”, Islam does demand from its adherents a strict formalistic doctrinal and ritualistic obedience but such obedience is part of a larger divine scheme for the realisation of human aesthetic aspirations. Hajj as a ritual forms the pinnacle of the realisation of such aspiration.

In Imam Ghazali’s words, “Hajj is the perfection of Islam as a Din”. The notion of such perfection for the Imam is entirely based on the explicit text of the Quran, “This day I have perfected for you your religion, and completed my Blessing upon you, and have approved for you Islam as religion”. (Alquran 5:3) Perfection in any sphere of human life can never be realised without aesthetics being an essential part of it. While all the rituals of Islam be it Salah, Zakat or Ramadan, play a pivotal part in the process of perfection of Din, the ritual of Hajj has the distinction of enabling the believer to go beyond the universal or ethical to realise the actual source all of beauty and beautiful.

Looking at Kabba is nothing but an aesthetic experience, an experience of seeing the mode of seeing the divine, which is nothing but beautiful. Kabba, in the words of Martin Lings “is a symbol of the Centre of our being’”, and facing Kabba symbolises an experience of “reintegration of a fragmented finite individual self into the infinitude of the Divine Self”, an embrace of Divine beauty.

But to experience Hajj as a Divine aesthetic experience, one is required to become a “knight of faith”. A “knight of faith” is born when one moves beyond mere resignation from the world and understands that true faith consists in believing in paradoxes and impossibilities like that of Ibrahim who believed that God demanded a sacrifice of his son from him but at the same time believed that God will not let him sacrifice his son.

Aijaz Manzoor (Political Science)

It is born when one understands that there is an absolute duty towards God, a duty in the performance of which there can be in Kierkegaardian terms a “teleological suspension of the ethical”, a situation where one “determines his relation to the Universal through his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute through his relation to the universal”.

In the words of Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani, “The quest for eternal and absolute beauty is the essence of Hajj”. However, the fulfilment of such a quest is dependent on the larger requirement of absolute faith in absolute duty towards God, an absolute faith in coincidentia oppositorum.

(The author is an Assistant Professor and teaches political science at Government Degree College (Women), Pulwama. Ideas are personal.)


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