Monday, November 15, 2010

HAJJ: a spatial journey in time

Pilgrimage: a spatial journey in time

MECCA -- As you read this article, I will have completed my umrah and will be performing wuquf (standing) at Mount Arafat along with about 3 million Muslims who rushed to Mecca from all around the world for the hajj, or pilgrimage.

Tonight (Monday) I will leave for Muzdalifa, and on Tuesday morning I will go to Mina to stone the devil. I will then circumambulate the Kaaba (tawaf) and on the same day perform the sacrifice. Following this, God willing, I will be a pilgrim along with other believers.

I know that I have used a number of religious/spatial/historical concepts within the two relatively shorts sentences above in a way that my non-Muslim readers will have difficulty to understand: umrah, hajj, Mecca, Arafat, wuquf, Muzdalifa, Mina, stoning of the devil, the Kaaba, tawaf, sacrifice. These terms and expressions are only part of dozens of concepts, places and historical information that Muslims have to learn and implement in order to perform the hajj as one of the five pillars of Islam. Perhaps thanks to this requirement the hajj can become a comprehensive form of worship that allows believers in Islam to understand not only their inner selves, but also the external world around them and the future.

Indeed, this sacred worship, incumbent upon every Muslim who is physically and financially able to undertake it, offers a rich treasure of gains and benefits which they would not be able to obtain through decades of reading books if the temporal, spatial and conceptual dimensions of this worship are truly comprehended. I can assure you that a pilgrimage performed as it should be will make the pilgrim realize and understand not only the realities of our time, the magnificent background that embodies Islam and other Abrahamic religions but also the very places where these Abrahamic religions were born and where past, present and possible future events will be based.

If you ask, “Are there people who can realize and understand all this?” then my answer is, “For sure, there are.” But I will certainly add, “However, I must conclude that their numbers are quite low given the current miserable condition of the Muslim world.” In addition to traveling in space, the hajj also gives pilgrims an opportunity to travel in time. The hajj may take you to a past of several thousands years ago, and it may also help you make predictions about what the future of the Muslim world will be in the future by looking at the current condition of Muslims coming from all around the world.

Evidently, we cannot look at the sacred places of the hajj independent of their historical past. And the history of Mecca -- which was the focal point of every big transformation experienced in the historical process of the gradual perfection of Islam, as willed by God, and which today hosts the sacred pilgrimage -- and the Kaaba, which is the heart of Mecca, the world and the universe for Muslims, cannot be imagined separately from their identity as a geographical place where this history occurred. This point, I think, is well evidenced by the historical event in which Hajar desperately ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa, which are made of volcanic deposits in the middle of the desert that was in appearance devoid of any resources, in order to find water for her son Ismael.

This veil of spatial (desert) mystery indicates that the apparent world does not tell anything about the hidden world, and I think it is capable of disclosing many things to those who are open to them. The holy Zamzam water, which made poor Hajar the happiest mother in history as it spurted out from among the volcanic rocks in a sea of sand and came to the rescue of Ismael, still remains as a miraculous secret because it continues to serve as the water of life for millions of people in the heart of the desert.

In the stories in which Hajar, Ismael, Safa, Marwa and Zamzam water complement each other, place intermingles with time. In the sacred/honorable vicinity of the Kaaba that instills a new life into every visiting Muslim, place cannot be separated from time and vice versa.

But if you think that the story of the Kaaba and the hajj begins with Hajar, Ismael or his father, Abraham, you are wrong. It is said that when God told Adam to build the Kaaba, he came to Mecca and built it with help from the angels. Adam made his first tawaf, and the angels said to him: “O Adam! May God bless your hajj. We visited this House two thousands years ago.” Thus, it is clear that the history of the Kaaba and the hajj goes beyond the history of mankind.

Obviously, even its several thousands of years of history are unable to truly comprehend the value of this sacred place. The projections of this intermingled coexistence of time and place are reflected onto our perception as religious concepts from which we can benefit in proportion to the strength of our faith. The hajj, performed every year by millions of Muslims, reflects the profundity (or should I say, shallowness) of this perception. Then, as individual Muslims, each of us is left with the question, “What is and will be the state of the Muslim world?”

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