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Hajj - The High Maintenance Journey

Several years back when I was privileged to respond to the call for the Hajj, I realize, I was caught more in the torrent of emotions to touch, feel and live the holy sites (ziyarat) than to perform the fifth Article of Islam. Swept on to a precipitate reaction, perhaps while deciding to perform the pilgrimage I had perceived only part of the situation. Without much knowledge, thought and application of mind when I was required to acquaint myself with the real essence ('whys' and the 'wherefores') of the Hajj, the emphasis was laid mainly on performance of Manasik-e-hajj. I returned home, with the title but not with the key as 'to how to emerge cleansed of sins' and 'live life hereafter innocent of devilish tendencies'.

Years after performing the Hajj pilgrimage my bubbling enthusiasm and attendant excitement have since run out of steam. I do say Salah (nimaz) five times. In fact, I recite Koran as well and perform most of other Haqooq-ullah regularly. My performance and dealings with the people (Haqooq-ul-ibad) have however largely failed me to save my Hajj.

With all the razzamatazz of excitement and publicity, the emotionally charged Hajjis as usual are set to proceed for the holy journey. Do these future Hajjis understand that living life (during and after pilgrimage) is not a cakewalk? Do they realize that it calls for toil, sacrifice, and that Taqwa and not the thanday thanday deen - reading Nowfals, reciting Koran and Darood---alone will help them save their Hajj? In the following paragraphs I have penned down my experience about the essence of the Hajj pilgrimage, perceptions, misconceptions and the reasons why many of us fail to save our Hajj.

The artistry of a wordsmith fails to describe the choked passion of the Hajj pilgrims. Best of the writers would find it difficult to narrate the "drenched -in-devotion" and "drowned-in-supplication". There is no emotion, for a Muslim, to equal the first sight of the Kaa'ba. There is also no feeling close to the sense of complete submission that overtakes him when his forehead touches the ground, as he prays to the Almighty Allah. Desire to touch, feel, and live the holy places: walk: and live where Prophet Mohammad (pbh) and his followers once lived and the place that witnessed several great Islamic events is overpowering.

Performance of the Hajj is the story of monotheism and strict obedience to Allah. It is the journey of love, rituals and a prayer aimed at tracing the saga of Prophet Ibrahim (pbh) and is personal one. While Purity, prayer, humility and faith are implied in the pilgrimage, the pilgrims are supposed to dedicate themselves to worship and prayer as also the denial of worldly vanities and the rejection of evil in thought, word and deed.

During the journey, the pilgrims are expected to decide to purify themselves and throw stones symbolically on all the devilish tendencies. The thought being directed from physical to spiritual the best of the provisions required for journey is right conduct, which is the same as the 'Fear of Allah' or in other words 'Taqwa'. They shall now on live life free of devilish tendencies and ensure that their dealing in terms of Haqooq-ullah as well as Haqooq-ul-ibad are in tune with the Quran and Hadith. As it involves high maintenance, the question is, 'are they able to save Hajj?'

Obsessed by the passion to own a jazzy high label parker pen (based on inadequate knowledge) when the nine - something (brat) grows blind to arguments, he digs heels not to take denials. His papa has sufficient knowledge and comprehension about the fate of the buy. Therefore he proposes cost effective alternatives. The hapless father soon finds himself dragged down to bed rock by thousands and odd rupees. The passion of the little darling ebbs away soon. He soon chucks out the pen as junk, nib broken. Buying decision with inadequate idea and poor knowledge/comprehension invariably ends in fiasco.

In the days preceding the Hajj they as the kindled passions run very high, drenched in devotion and drowned in supplication, the prospective Hajjis embody all the feelings of penitence and remorse for their sins. The guilt of unprepared-ness / undeserved-ness is overwhelmingly high suggestive thereof as if the piety and devotion are greater during the pre - Hajj days than in the aftermath of performing the Hajj. For the first few days of their stay in the holy land most of the pilgrims remain drenched in devotion so much so that they may even conjure visions of dying (the privileged) death in the holy places. To them their passion of touching, feeling and living the holy places and clinging to the Kaa'ba, performing countless tawafs, kissing Hajre - Aswad, closeting themselves in Riyaz - ul-Janat at Medina, saying Nowfals and reciting holy Quran and so on has come true.

But then the hapless pilgrims with the passion referred to above soon bring themselves to the feeling that they have had their fill and therefore their enthusiasm is suddenly on wane. As they find themselves leisurely they are soon found whiling away their (plenty of) disposable time in the markets shopping gifts for their near and dear ones (the frenzied souls panic themselves into using every trick to evade payment of excess baggage and custom duty and that may even include chosing to surrender the ZamZam water as excess baggage). In their shopping spree the urge to kiss the Hajre-Aswad and say Salah (nimaz) in the sacred Hateem is at low ebb. The last minute dash would find them saying Nimaz in the outskirts of the Haram. Those who prefer to say Nimaz in their hotel rooms, claim to be saving time in going to and fro the Haram. The faithful that earlier fantasized about dying the much-cherished death turn volte-face. As they are on to throw stones on the Jumarat in Mina, the stampede that occurs in the nearby gives them scares of death. Should there be some Fatwa they will evade the very important Hajj Manasik of throwing stones (symbolically on all the devilish tendencies) on the Satan.

Years after performing the Hajj pilgrimage when the bubbling enthusiasm and attendant excitement run out of stream people may keep on saying nimaz (Salah), reciting Quran, and performing most of other Haqooq-ullah regularly. They may still be expecting (even demanding) that the people should respect them for their title. In retrospect it is their performance and dealings with the people (Haqooq-ul-ibad) that speak volumes why the bubble bursts and why is it difficult to save the Hajj. For a Hajji living life is not a cake walk. He is got to take care of his title. And that involves lot of toil and sacrifice and not just "THANDAY THANDAY DEEN' - i.e., reading Nowfals, reciting Quran and giving/reading sermons.

As the pilgrims finish the Hajj, many of them have not the slightest doubts about returning home as new born - sins washed away. They are enamoured of their newly earned title. In the frenzy of the visions conjured (of people receiving them with grand welcome and joy) many of them soon forget to remember the post Hajj performance required of them - earlier the frenzied pilgrims on the way to the holy land had devoted themselves to rehearsing the Hajj rites, reciting Quranic verses, saying Salah, and humbly and pleadingly praying Allah to forgive them. In the fit of remorse for having lived a life of sins - unpardonable and unutterable - some of them had broken down several times.

During the 4-5 hours long journey in the plane on return, a large number of the pilgrims have no time and desire even to thumb through a single page of the holy Quran gifted away to them by the Saudi authorities at the airport. Some do not remember even to offer Fajr. The arrival lounge at the airport is filled with the brouhaha of the freshly arrived Hajjis with the contradicting body languages. While a large number of the ostensible title holders (achievers and performers) are busy parading their newly earned title, the cleansed lot (that is actually emerged as newborn) filled with remorse hide themselves behind the crowd. The freshly returned Hajjis, clad in the snow white outfit, excite envy of one and all. They are received like the holy of holies. The devotees visit them in droves to get their blessings. In their frenzy some of them may not hesitate even to kiss the feet of the Hajjis that according to the former have had great honour of touching the soil that 'house' the Rozat-ul-Aqdas. Exalted to the skies their status suddenly raises to the level of something divine and sacred. Burning curiosity of the faithful to know about the holy pilgrimage gets the Hajjis charged. With eyes bathed in tears they ramble about the Hajj and the piety till the last syllable of recorded time.

For some days the freshly returned Hajjis would get visions of the Ka'aba every time they stand up to offer Nimaz (Salah). As the Muezzin shouts, it reminds them of the stentorian, breath taking Azaan that resounds through the holy Harams to fill up the atmosphere and tear hearts of the faithful apart. But then the enthusiasm (in most of the cases) soon starts running out of steam. As the honey moon is over the hapless Hajjis find themselves again exposed to the worldly vanities/desires. Avalanched by the concerns like wordly comforts/luxuries, money, ostentatious displays, offices, promotions children's education, their career and the like, the poor fellows find it difficult to save their Hajj.

While asleep in the Holy mosque at Maka'h some one experiences in his dream that the heavy rains have caused flood in the Masjid-il-Haram. In the deluge that a hundred or so of pilgrims have been caught, the latter swim in vain to reach ashore the House of Allah. A handful of swimmers alone make Ka'aba safe.

As if cleansing of sins and emerging like a newborn were a rarity, what are cleansed in the process on the other hand may be the handful virtues (like penitence and humility) that the pilgrims possess before leaving for the Hajj. Ironically enough the cargo of sins that the pilgrims bring to the holy place for cleansing may be carried back by them when they return home. In fact, the way Hajji talks and deals with people suggest what he has done in the Hajj.

The assumption of the social influence and respect is suggestive as if of some powers rubbed off by God on them. In effect the behaviour of some may smell something like that of the Hajji who is begged of alms by a blind man. The former hands him the red-hot earthen piece from with in the fire pot. The knee-jerk reaction to the action is the reply received from the blind man. 'Are you a Haji?

Interestingly those who bestow honour on the pilgrim also layout boundaries, mark peripheries and watch his Post Hajj actions/dealings keenly. Given the chance, they do not hesitate to treat his conduct as also the acquired title beneath contempt. The Hajj is no picnic. It is a highly demanding pilgrimage fraught with great risk. The Hajj can make you and unmake you. Visit to Ka'aba would give Sahaba, the companions of the prophet Muhammad (pbh), and other pious people a scare lest they should sin against the (unwritten) code of conduct. They would leave the holy place as early as possible.

Performance of the Hajj is a story of monotheism and strict obedience to God. Purity, prayer, humility and faith are implied in the pilgrimage. As already the pilgrim is supposed to dedicate himself to worship and prayer and the denial of vanities. While the Hajj is the journey of love, rituals and prayers aimed at tracing the saga of Prophet Ibrahim (pbh), and is a personal one, it is connected with the rejection of evil in thought, word and deed. It is aimed at purifying the pilgrim. Symbolically the latter throws stones on the entire devilish tendencies. He shall now on live life free of devilish tendencies and ensure that his dealings in terms of Haqooq-ullah as well as Haqooq-ul-ibad are in tune with the Quran and Hadith. He will make all his efforts to save the Hajj----the Pilgrimage that involves high maintenance.

Students seeking admission in the institutions of higher learning world over are required to take 'aptitude tests'. The tests have been devised to assess the comprehension, communication, problem-solving, and reasoning and data sufficiency abilities of the applicants. As a part of the policy to maintain reputation of higher standards of learning a majority of these schools/institutions admit only those applicants who score high in these tests. Maka'h and Medinaare the places of great learning in the Islamic world. The former houses Ka'aba, the House of Allah, towards which the faithful gravitate. It also boasts of being the birth place of Prophet Muhammad (pbh). Medinais the place where Prophet Muhammad (pbh) lived and practiced his religion. It was here that men of great learning with hardly any parallel in the history learnt and taught the message of peace, equally, and humanity to the world. Pilgrimage to these high profile institutions of learning/repute calls for assessment of the abilities of the prospective pilgrims, be it the comprehension, reasoning, faith, conviction and devotion. The pilgrims need advance training as also hard work to acquire high proficiency (score) in understanding the very fundamentals/essence of Hajj---- purity, humility, self sacrifice and faith are implied in it. Remembering, reciting and parroting Quranic verses and performing Manasik-e-Hajj and other rituals won't alone do. It is a high maintenance journey involving great efforts and caution. The right conduct, that is, the Fear of Allah, (Taqwa) is the ultimate purpose of the 5th article of Islam----the Hajj. May Allah bestow on every Hajji the sprit of Allah fearing, the Taqwa-----Amen.

For Allah does not disappoint the expectations of His quests presenting themselves in the holy land, the Satan understands that this is the heaven for sinners as their dedication and devotion can get them cleansed of their sins. He makes use of lures to distract the hapless pilgrims' attention/devotion. While his success rate is far below normal in the Haram, many a weak - kneed pilgrim however get ensnared. For example, the moment they offer prayers in the Haram, the poor fellows feel drugged with sleep. They may give in to the sudden urge to go toilet. Alternately some may enter into (useless) discussions with the fellow pilgrims or may even fall sick.

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