The Test of a True Believer
by Nancy Ali
Imagine yourself in the midst of a desert on a 120'F day with two to three million people, shoulder-to-shoulder, walking, running, praying, sleeping and eating together. And during the course of a three- day period you will try to keep yourself in constant remembrance of your Creator, praising, thanking and asking forgiveness for the wrongdoings in your lifetime.As difficult as it may seem, this occasion has taken place for the past 1407 years, since Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received this sacred commandment from God as revealed in the Holy Qur'an. This pillar of Islam is called "Haj ". The literal meaning of -the word is "effort". Conventionally this term is translated "Pilgrimage" but is far from the exact significance of the word. Your first question is probably: "Why in the middle of a desert in Saudi Arabia? Or another may be "Why do Muslims give such strong importance to the Kaba (House of Allah). Here is the history or beginning of it all. The Holy Qur'an makes clear that it is the oldest House in the world dedicated to God and mono- theism. Islamic tradition credits Abraham (PBUH) as the restorer of the Kaba, which was originally erected by Adam (PBUH). This makes it older than the Temple of Jerusalem built by Solomon (PBUH). Though Haj is the climax of visitation, it is not the only time of the year that the Kaba is visited. On every day of the year and at every minute and second of time, thousands of Muslims are performing a small pilgrimage called "Umrah". It has been noted that when the desert was blessed with heavy rainfall, pilgrims would swim around the Kaba while praying to Allah. The rites of Haj are noted as such: 1. When a Pilgrim reaches the borders of the sacred territory, the Haj attire is worn; for a mate, two sheets of unhemmed white cloth (a loin cloth and a shoulder cover) and for a female a white floor-length dress with Ml sleeves and a veil or head-covering which only exposes the face is worn. 2. The pilgrim then goes to Arafat in the suburbs of Mecca to pass the day in meditation and that of asking forgiveness for one's sins. 3. In the evening he/she returns passes the night in sleep and early in the morning goes to a place called "Mina" in the outskirts of Mecca. There he/she symbolically shuns Satan and seeks refuge with His Creator. As to the deliberate shunning of Satan at this particular point, it is done so in remembrance of Abraham (PBUH) when he claimed to love Allah above A else and Allah tested his faith by asking him to sacrifice his son. To add to the test, Satan came to Abraham (PBUH) three times trying to persuade him to change his mind but in response to the temptation he began throwing stones in the direction where Satan appeared. 4. The believer then proceeds to the Kaba (House of Worship), going around it seven times. This visit is to give evidence of obedience with respect and humility. The act of circumambulation is not new to Islam. It was also practiced in the pre-Islamic era by other Prophets of Allah i.e. Abraham (PBUH) to show readiness to sacrifice for the object of devotion, care and love. 5. The last of the Haj is that of running between the hills of Safa and Marwah in front of the Kaba seven times. This reminds the believer of the incident when Abraham (PBUH) left his wife Hagar and his infant child Ishmael (PBUH) in the desolate and uninhabited place of what is now Mecca. The water, which they brought with them, was exhausted. Ishmael (PBUH) was suffering from hunger and in desperation Hagar started running between these two hills of Safa and Marwah in search of water. Not being able to succeed in finding a well, the Infant Ishmael (PBUH) cried while striking his tiny foot on the ground. Allah then caused a spring (Zamzam) to gush forth providing water for the starving mother and child. This spring still produces water for all of the thirsty pilgrims who visit the Sacred House of Allah. 6. Another part of the Haj is for the male Hajji, on behalf of himself and his entire family to sacrifice a sheep by means of the proper way of slaughtering by Muslims. This is done by invoking the name of Allah and also in the most painless war for the animal. Part of the animal is shared with the family and the rest is distributed to the poor and needy. Apart from this, it is done to commemorate Abraham's (PBUH) readiness to sacrifice his first-born son after he dreamt that Allah demanded of him this supreme sacrifice. Haj is another example of how Islam does not separate itself into another religion but keeps the believers mindful of the obedience to Allah of all Prophets (PBUT) before the advent of Muhammad (PBUH). He asks that they pay their respects and ask forgiveness in a state of humility as others did before him. As Haj is very beneficial spiritually for a believer, it is indeed a difficult task to perform and tests him/her at all times. For example, the weather condition alone along with the desert terrain dehydrates and exhausts the individual physically. The more than 3 million people performing pilgrimage may not utter abusive words to another if he accidentally gets pushed or shoved and absolutely no act of physical violence is permitted from one pilgrim to another. Men and women perform Haj together as separating them would be next to impossible. The believers must guard their modesty of heart and eyes as to maintain their state of purity. Every pilgrim must observe the necessary ablution (washing of the hands, neck, ears, face and feet) before each of the five daily prayers during Hajj. They are not in their comfortable homes with abundance of water supply. Hence, it can be difficult to find water and sometimes one must share his small portion with another Muslim. Food supply is also cut to a minimum and the sharing of food among pilgrims is most always essential, even if yours is running low. The latter is not an option, but expected of a pilgrim by Allah so as to humble and induce sacrifice for those who are in need of food or water. In summary, Haj is indeed an effort, which accomplishes two goals for the believer. (1) He/she has fulfilled the duty of Haj by visiting the Sacred House of God and paying respect to Adam, Ibrahim, Hagar, Ishmael (PBUT) for their steadfastness, obedience and faith in the One and only God. (2) The social accomplishment is not less striking. The believers, without distinction of race, language or birthplace feel the obligation to go there and mix with one another in a spirit of equality. They camp together in the desert and perform their religious duties in common for several days at fixed times. They walk, make a stop, and pass the night under tents-all this to an extent greater than even the five daily prayers. This trains Muslims (servants of Allah) for a life of obedience to Allah's commandments and benevolence towards humankind.