September 20, 2015
I think a reoccurring lesson of this journey has been learning and understanding what it means for something to be sacred. What it means for something to be favored or blessed by God. To believe and seek what is beyond our explanation, to understand the sanctity of the deeper meaning of things, and to come closer to the Divine and answer the call in our hearts. It’s so far been a journey of self discovery, and Hajj hasn’t even started yet.
Part of the journey has been understanding the things my faith holds sacred. One of the things that stuck in my mind and troubled me was the fact that my first moments with the Ka’ba weren’t the unforgettable spiritual event I thought it would be. I had hyped the moment up so much in my mind, replaying how it would be and how I should feel, that when reality struck I felt guilty because I wasn’t living out the thoughts and feelings I told myself I should have. A thought kept coming to my head, which I had to fight off: it’s just a building… But I knew that it reflected a lack of knowledge on my part: a lack of knowledge of the history, purpose and sanctity of the Ka’ba. And by extension, the other rituals of Hajj as well.
I bought some books on the history of the Ka’ba, the Rawdah, and Zamzam—all of [these places are] sanctified in Islam. I’m reminded of the saying, “God helps those who help themselves,” because in my desire to understand, God placed in our group Sheikh Munir, from London, Ontario. He gave a lecture on the “why” of Hajj. In it, he explained that while it is sufficient to simply say that God commands us to do something and we do it, sometimes it helps to reflect and ponder on some of the wisdoms behind God’s commands. He said that Islam is a combination of of knowing “why” so the “how” can be complete.
The rites of Hajj
The story of Hajj begins long before Prophet Muhammad (p). Adam and Hawa were sent down to Earth from their home in Paradise. Adam was placed somewhere in India and Hawa was placed in Jeddah (which means “Grandmother”—our grandmother). The two met in Arafat (which means “recognized”) and started our human family on earth. The 9th of Dhul-Hijjah—the second day of Hajj—is the day of Arafat. The pilgrims gather at square one for our family. It is the most important day of your life. The Prophet (p) said, “Hajj is Arafat”. That day, over 4 million people will have a full day of one-to-One worship and supplication with God. Youa re along with God, and you can do any act of worship you want, ask for anything you want, and God will answer you.
Next is spending the night in Muzdalifah. It’s rightly packed, and dark. We go through these periods at the bookends of our life: when we’re born and when we’re put in the grave. But also the dark moments in our life where there doesn’t seem to be a way out—but God makes a way out for you, and the sun rises the next day. You return to Mina to stone the jamarat—symbolic of driving the devil out of your life. At this point, Sheikh Munir said something that was like he was speaking directly o me. He said if you feel strange or empty, then that’s a good sign because Satan is losing his grasp on you; he’s relying on whispers to try and distract you. After my two polar experiences at the Kabah and my tendency to feel bad because I’m not as emotional as I think I should be, this was a relief.
The next act is the sacrifice, and it’s purpose is simple to understand: you are telling yourself that you are not greedy, that God’s favor is more valuable to you than your wealth. The sacrificial animal is slaughtered and then the meat is given to the poor and needy. Today it is packed and shipped to those who need it around the world. As God says in the Qur’an, it is not their flesh and blood that reaches God, it is your piety.
And then Tawaf.
Tawaf. The act of worship that triggered my desire to understand better the sacraments of God. Tawaf is about learning your place in the universe by following a pattern of motion adopted by all of creation. You may noticed that we go counterclockwise around the Ka’ba. Logically, we should be going clockwise, with the Kaba on our right side. But look at the electrons of an atom; the moon around the earth; the sun around the Milky Way; the Milky Way around the Virgo Supercluster. All of them do their own Tawaf, counterclockwise around a larger, greater object. That is the pattern of creation: the lesser circles the greater, drawn toward it like gravity.
Why the ‘Ka’bah’?
There are two opinions regarding who first established the Ka’ba: some say it was Ibrahim, but others say Ibrahim rebuilt it on foundations that were already there.
So who built it first?
Sheikh Munir follows the opinion (as do I) that the first to establish the Ka’ba were the angels… they established the foundations. Adam then built the first house of worship, then his son Sheeth, then it was destroyed in the flood of Noah. Then Abraham was instructed to establish the Ka’ba on its foundations. So ever since the dawn of man, there has been a Ka’ba. We cannot do Tawaf around God. But God has given us the Ka’ba to symbolically circle Him with.
I asked Sheikh Munir if a part of the Ka’ba we know today is part of the original Ka’ba, and he said that the wall between the Yemeni corner and the Black Stone—the two corners we were instructed to touch—are still sitting on the original foundations of the Ka’ba. All of this was exactly what I needed to hear. Now that I understand the deeper meaning of these rituals, they are now dearer to me.
I’m finishing this entry a day after I started writing it. It’s lengthy, but was necessary. Tomorrow is the day that Hajj starts. The last leg of my journey. The last pillar of my Islam.
A big part of my journey was coming to terms with being face-to-face with what is sacred. I already mentioned this in my experience with the Rawdah. I believed that everything needs an obvious proof for it to be believed, and so when I came face-to-face with the Ka’ba, I questioned why we held it sacred. And because I questioned, I felt guilty.
During our stay in Aziziya, we were again combined with the Falcon Travel group. Staying with us was Sheikh Munir, a tall man with an average built, angular face and thin, snow-white beard cropped close to his chin. One evening, after prayer, I gave him a slip of paper asking why the Ka’ba was sacred. I mean, after all, the building we see today is not the same one that was around during the time of Prophet Muhammad (p), and further back even from the time of Abraham. It’s been altered, damaged, rebuilt, destroyed—it’s been tampered by man so much, how could we consider it a symbol of God?
The next night, Sheikh Munir gave his presentation on the “why” of Hajj (most of which made up this entry). He not only covered the Ka’ba, but all the rites associated with Hajj, and the deeper meaning behind them. It was everything I needed to hear. For some, it’s enough that God tells them to do something and they do it; that’s fine. But for myself, I was driven to understand the wisdoms behind why we had to do it.
At the end of it, I had a new respect for the Ka’ba—and for all of the symbols of Hajj. While the Ka’ba as we see it today has been changed, it has always rested on the same foundations laid down by the angels. In this place, successive generations of Prophets worshipped here. One of the wisdoms behind having this building change over time is to show us that even with the passing of time, the outer exterior of the building may change, but the foundation has always remain the same. A beautiful analogy for the progression of monotheistic faith if I ever heard one.