I wanted to write my reflections on Hajj since 2007- I am finally getting around to it, abandoning all hope in “perfect expression” and simply telling you what I witnessed in my heart. I will post my reflections on Hajj in numerous postings, as necessary, to ensure I finally get around to sharing them.
Mawt kabli mawt: Death before Death
In my view putting on the Ehram- two pieces of white unstitched clothes- during the few days of Hajj is like putting on your Kafand (burial cloth). It is like a journey to mawt kabli mawt- death before death -only to be resurrected purified. This is my personal explanation for why, at the end of the Hajj, in order to resume marital relations, one must do another tawwaf-circumbulation around the Kaaba-as that is the symbolic act of returning to life after death. Marriage in law comes to an end upon death- being resurrected purified resuscitates it.
Mawt kabli mawt is worth contemplation. I used to pray for “mawt kabli mawt”. Then during a tawwaf – circumbulation around the Kaaba- my chest was terribly squeezed by people around me- I could not breath and felt that I may die. Right at that moment, I saw a beautiful face of a youthful man who smiled at me. His smile said it all, “You are not ready yet to give up your life” The people around me made way and I was able to breath again!
But the willingness to give up what is dear to us for “It”- a universal seed within us-is necessary for death before death. Ibrahim (Abraham) loved his son Ismail (Ishmael) and his willingness to sacrifice his son for “Allah” permitted him to have both- Ismail and Allah. I found many “Ishmael” within me: for instance my love for my self- what I do for a living, the money I earn, my family, my house, my car- within me. Travelling or journeying in Hajj with so little- two pieces of cloth and the bare necessities that I could carry with me- showed me how little I actually needed. When I was tired, I sat on the ground before me; at one point, having forgotten to take water with me, I stood in line for a bottle of water generously gifted by a man. I found that the simplest of pleasures were the most satisfying ones.
But why should anyone of us seek death before death? For the love of ourselves and God. The death we seek is not to the breath of God within us but to everything else. It is actually the pursuit of the beautiful. I am also cognizant that My Allah is He who loves us to live our lives as our nature dictates- to live it passionately, when we must The mother of Ismail ran between two mountains in search of water for her son- and this natural of all acts was so loved by God that he made the imitation of that act mandatory on all Muslims during the Hajj. The mother of Ismail failed to get water for her son- her action had no natural effect- yet God loved us being true to our nature so much that the spring of Zamzam emerged below Ismail’s feet!
The days that I spent in Hajj is often a reminder to me of our possibility to die before our death and become free. A poem from Ayatollah Khomeini (See Note 1) is worth a mention, as it puts the mystic quest so eloquently:
If Noah’s salvation was in reaching to the shore,
My Salvation is in drowning itself.
(Wine of Love, a compilation of poetry by Ayatollah Khomeini)
All dressed in white in two pieces of white cloth is and should be a sign of equality. It became apparent to me that I should pray that God should grant the prayers of the other pilgrims and mine: we were all standing together searching a glimpse of the Divine.
Regretfully, the message of equality is necessary for us, and I fear will be necessary for many generations to come- because Muslim societies and other societies are far from “equality”. Even in Hajj, all the white clothes are not the same: it is dependent on the money you are willing to spend. Nor all pilgrims journey with the same or equivalent difficulty. There are some pilgrims who slept on the ground, while others who stayed in relative comfort. If Hajj reminds us of equality of human beings, as it should, it did not have the effect on our souls to propel us to eliminate poverty within our communities.
The importance and benefit of socialization & Exercise
Hajj is a social event. You cannot perform Hajj on any days except the prescribed ones. The way to God is together and not alone. I enjoyed getting to speak to people and know them at an authentic level. The old and the young, and people of different backgrounds, dressed in two pieces of white cloth, often scorched by the sun, retreated into tents and had genuine conversation. We also walked everywhere. There was something authentic about our living and breathing. We ate to live and did not eat to live. We appreciated what we received. Eating also became a communal event. I remember that after Hajj, when we were in Medina, I received the news from another pilgrim that Benazir Bhutto had been killed. I had not watched any TV for two weeks at that point. There was a joy in socialization that one cannot compare to sitting on a couch, watching TV.
Hajj also provided a unique opportunity to know yourself and others at their best and worst. You really get to know people when you are reduced to the bare necessities, you jointly pursue a glimpse of the Divine, and have to constantly make choices about loving one another- there are some who pushed their way to the Kaaba- there were many more who were filled with Divine presence and pursued both the Hidden and the Manifest faces of God. They were helpful to other pilgrims.
Note 1: By quoting the poetry of Ayatollah Khomeini, this blog is not endorsing his views or philosophy. This blog will, however, take beautiful sayings and wisdom from any source without necessarily endorsing the source. For example, I have quoted from the Bible, without endorsing Christianity, in my reply on the topic of Non Poetic Rant: Euthanasia and Sanctity of Life: Are they Opposites?