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Significance of Haj in life of a Muslim

THE last of the fundamental duties in Islam is that of Haj. Laying it down as an essential religious obligation upon Muslims, the Holy Quran says: "Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Almighty God - those who can afford the journey, but if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures" (III:97). In this verse while Haj has been declared obligatory, it has been made clear that it is applicable only to those who possess the means and material resources to undertake it. But care has to be taken in interpretation of the last part of the verse.

It warns that if Muslims whom Almighty Allah has blessed with the necessary means to perform pilgrimage fail to carry out their duty through sheer ingratitude, then Almighty God does not stand in need of their pilgrimage. He will definitely lose nothing by their not performing Haj - the loss will be entirely theirs.

Haj is obligatory on every adult who can afford the journey, and this duty is to be performed only once in a person's lifetime. No other institution in the world has the wonderful influence that Haj does. It helps in levelling all distinctions of race, colour and rank. Not only do people of all races and countries meet together in front of the Holy House of Almighty God as His servants and the members of one Divine family, they also have the same dress code. All of them are wrapped in two white sheets, and there remains nothing to distinguish those who are monetarily well off, from those who aren't.

There is a vast concourse of human beings, all dressed in the same way, moving in one manner, and all uttering the same words, "Labbaika Allah-umma labbaika," meaning, "Here are we, O Allah! here are we in Thy presence". It is Haj alone that brings into the domain of practicality what would otherwise seem impossible, namely that all people, to whatever class or country they belong speaking one language and having uniformity in their dress code. Thus every Muslim is made to pass once in his life through that narrow gate of equality which leads to broad brotherhood. All men are equal at birth and death; they come into life in one way and leave this world in another way, but both these ways are the same for all.

While living in this world, Haj is the only occasion when they are taught how to live , act and feel in one manner.

When European writers describe Haj, they make note only of its outward actions. They have never tried to discover the real significance of Haj. Looking broadly at the scene at Makkah during the Haj days, one is struck first of all by the unity that can be seen to prevail among the discordant elements of humanity. Deeper than that, however, lies another value of Haj, and this is the higher spiritual experience which is made possible by this unique assemblage of men - the experience of drawing closer and closer to Almighty God till man feels that all those veils that keep him away from Almighty God have been lifted and he is standing in the Divine presence of Almighty God.

Every member of this great assemblage sets out from his home with that object in view. He discards all those comforts of life which act as a veil against the inner sight.

The higher significance of a man's spiritual experience in an assemblage is evident from another point of view as well. That there is a mysterious way from one heart to another is an undeniable truth. Therefore, the company of a man who is inspired by similar feelings and who is undergoing a similar experience is undoubtedly an additional force to the spiritual experience of each one of those performing Haj.

Take the case of thousands of men, even hundreds of thousands, all inspired by the one idea of feeling the presence of the Divine Being, all concentrating their minds on the One Supreme Being Whose Goodwill, for the time being, is their sole object. And add to this the mighty effect of the outward unity of them all, all clad in the same two sheets, all crying in one language what is understood by all, "Labbaika Allah-umma labbaika" - "Here we are, O Allah! Here are we in Thy presence." Their appearance, as well as the words which are on their lips, show that they are standing in the Divine Being's presence, and are so engrossed in the contemplation of Almighty Allah that they have lost all ideas of the self.

Almighty God is surely not in Makkah to the exclusion of other places, yet that vast assemblage at Makkah sees Him and feels His presence as if He is actually there in their very midst. Such is the higher spiritual experience of the pilgrims in Makkah, the experience, not of a hermit shut up in his closet cut off from the world, but of a mighty concourse gathered together in one place.

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