Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
How many stones do you have to use to hit Satan during Hajj? Does Satan actually exist and can it actually be hit by a physical stone? A little thought tells us that these rituals are only of symbolic value.
See the National Geographic documentary around minute 40 to learn about the stoning of Satan at the time of Hajj:
The point I am trying to make here is that with little openness and flexibility of thought, one can realize that it is all symbolic in the rituals of the Hajj, at least in the stoning of the Satan: Surah Al Zukhruf – Ornaments of Gold: The Satan that Doesn’t Exist.
There are no fixed ideas in Islam or in the Quran, it is merely a human condition that we fix the thoughts to understand them to make it easy on ourselves. But, the side effect is that many thoughts and ideas get fixed in stone for the future generations, which were not meant to be.
The Quranic understanding is dynamic and is constantly evolving. Consider reading: God Is Living, So Why Does Religion Treat God As Dead?
The holy Quran tells us to look under the surface to find that piety is about developing compassion and the focus should be on leading a loving and kind life towards all of humanity and not an obsession with precise performance of the rituals:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or the West, but truly righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and spends his money for love of Him, on the kindred and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask for charity, and for ransoming the captives; and who observes Prayer and pays the Zakat; and those who fulfill their promise when they have made one, and the patient in poverty and afflictions and the steadfast in time of war; it is these who have proved truthful and it is these who are the God-fearing. (Al Quran 2:177/178)
Akif Kichloo a doctor and a poet writes in an article, The Reason Why I Will Never Go For Hajj:
The concern with which we are asked about the path we have taken, if heard and understood correctly, could so easily bring us back to the right path. Unfortunately the people of this world, especially the Muslims have gone deaf. Today with the same worry and tremendous anguish in my heart, I am compelled to ask everyone “Where are you going?” “Why have you turned a blind eye towards the sufferings of your fellow human beings?”
On one side, there 2 million displaced Syrian refugees including children, in great distress all across the Gulf and the European nations, crying for help, and on the other side, there are more than 2 million Muslims, totally disconnected from the tragedy, spending all their life savings to indulge in a 1400-year-old ritual called Hajj, which adds billions of dollars yearly to the already over flowing treasures of the Saudi king.
The same money, if donated by the people for the cause of Syrian refugees, could solve all their problems. And the Saudi government – which has housed more than 25 million pilgrims in the past 10 years – could lend a helping hand in giving temporary asylum to a major proportion of the most needy refugees by diverting the same manpower and wealth used to host the pilgrims. There are 100,000 air conditioned tents standing in the city of Mina in Saudi Arabia, with a holding capacity of about 2 million people – which, coincidentally, equals the exact number of refugees displaced from Syria. These tents are used for just 5 days in a year to house the Hajj pilgrims and they stand empty for the rest of the year, totally unused.
The Muslim world specifically and humanity in general is losing its moral compass. By believing in a god when we are divorced from the struggles of our own brothers and sisters, we have done nothing but shift the burden of responsibility from ourselves on to a higher power. When will we start to realise that no higher power will come to lift the fallen, and take it upon ourselves to do more than just pray for the ones in desperate need? Isn’t it high time already, especially for the people in Muslim world who take pride in quoting the Quran on universal brotherhood and oneness among Muslims, which I must say, ironically, is only displayed during the five days of Hajj?
The more we learn and meditate about Hajj, borrowing an expression from the modern Western understanding of Buddhism, the more we realize that it is about Universal Brotherhood and human equality before God.
The human understanding of love, compassion, justice and brotherhood has been evolving over time. We do not have to fix our Universal Brotherhood in the seventh or the twenty first century Arabia. We can of course, draw inspiration and metaphors from there and every where else.
But, today, the best way to describe our Universal Brotherhood is to describe it in the language that was agreed upon by a large part of humanity, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist and others in 1949, in the form of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.
Let us, the 1.8 billion Muslims of the world, begin to see the 30 Articles of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as integral and fundamental part of Islam, when it comes to human interaction, and start incorporating them in our personal, social and political lives, with the same zeal that we show in going to Hajj to become near to God, the Lord of Mercy and Compassion.
Let us recall that every good action we start with the expression: بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
Let us start a new beginning!