Shah Abdul Halim
In my book Hajj: Journey of a Lifetime which I wrote after performing pilgrimage in 2014, I explained about the significance of the various aspects of the hajj. During the hajj strikingly I observed fellow feeling among people, amazing experience love, compassion, sympathy, kindness, affection, warmth, concern and care.
In the Mina camp when one pilgrim became sick, fellow physician haji did everything possible to render assistance. Others came forward with their stock of medicine to facilitate the treatment.Again when another aged lady haji became sick after hurling pebbled to jamarat pillars symbolizing shaytaan as the mark of lifelong struggle against evil, all the accompanying lady hajis came forward for her succor. A young Egyptian boy even extended his water bottle to this sick haji forgetting his need to slake thirst.
In the Bait al Haram Makkah a young lady haji became unconscious due to heat and consequent fatigue. She was immediately hospitalized and young male and female hajis of the group accompanied her and stayed with her till she returned to the rest house safe.
While trying to kiss al Hajr al Aswad, the Black Stone another young male haji became unconscious due pressure of the congestion. Accompanying others hajis took care of him.
Again when an old lady got lost while coming to the hotel from the Bait al Haram Makkah, all other able bodied members of the group, male and female, made all out endeavors to trace her, moved hither and thither and they returned to the hotel only after the lady was found.
Everybody was respectful towards others and amazingly no body, not even one who was old and moved with the support of stick or baton, felt any hazard in circumambulating the Kaaba even though there was much congestion.
In the Hijr, the semicircular area of special sanctity, where was so much rush of people to offer prayers and where it was difficult to enter and find a place, even then I found an old lady offering prayers and a very young boy, may he her grandson, guarding her by spreading his two legs and hands and nobody caused any trouble to her and she offered prayers at ease, in total mental peace. Such was the situation. Everybody was respectful towards others.
In the Maqam-Ibrahim where hajis are required to offer prayers after tawaf, circumambulating the Kaaba, some enthusiastic hajis were offering prayer sat very close proximity of Maqam-Ibrahim, although shariah allows flexibility in offering prayers at some place at or near Maqam-Ibrahim, creating obstacle in the movement of other hajis who were circumambulating the Kaaba. In spite of this, other hajis did not create any impediment in their prayers and everybody treated them respectfully with kindness, sympathy, love and affection. The officials engaged at this place to maintain order and discipline also treated them gently.
The workforce of various countries engaged in the Bait al Haram Makkah readily extend helping hands while replying any quarry. The Saudi officials, male or female, were very courteous while dealing with the hajis. They always overlooked the lapses of the hajis. They respectfully appealed to hajis to follow the guidelines so that others did not face hurdles while performing hajj. These instructions were for the benefit of hajis themselves and for the smooth completion of hajj.
While going to Mina tent from the Bait al Haram Makkah the police stopped the microbus carrying us as it had no route permit to go to Mina and we had to get down from the transport. Here a Saudi Arabian national, knowing English, came forward to help us to communicate with the police.
Again an elderly Pakistani brother came forward to explain us the road to our destination at Mina tent when we lost our way but apprehending that we would not be able to reach the destined tent he voluntarily led us to Mina tent after walking more than ninety minutes.
When an elderly woman of our group became sick for long walking due to failure of the mutawiff, the Saudi Arabian guide, in providing transport, a young Saudi boy offered his services and pushed wheel-chair of the ailing lady.
In the Mina tent and also Muzdalifah, where hajis passed the whole night until the dawn on the sandy soil, wealthy Saudi philanthropists provided foods and drinks free of cost.
In the Masjid al Haram Makkah and the Masjid al Nabawi Madinah affluent Saudi philanthropists entertained the hajis with dates and gahwa.
Indeed the environment in Makkah and Madinah, as I observed during the performances of hajj, was highly spiritual. The people were hospitable and they were enthusiastic to extend a helping hand whenever there was a need. Undeniably the scene, by and large, was that of overwhelming spirit of universal brotherhood, displaying the spirit of unity devoid of national chauvinism and sense of national pride. However, I found noteworthy exception.
In fact the poison of national chauvinism has destroyed our unity as Muslims being one nation, one ummah, one community. One of the objectives of hajj is to strength brotherhood. Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him said: By Allah, you will not enter paradise until you believe and you will not believe until you love one another [Muslim]. However, it is obvious that national chauvinism has destroyed our vitality, vigor and energy as a nation to a great extent. We have lost the spirit and essence of forgiveness, tolerance, compassion and generosity as taught by the noble Prophet; and not only the people of the Indo-Pakistan-Bangladesh subcontinent are suffering from such prejudice and jingoism but also the people of West Asia or North Africa are no exception in this respect. Here I shall mention several incidents.
My fellow male hajis from Bangladesh were speaking ill against their political opponents and these were lies, at a time when they were wearing the outfit of ihram, two white pieces of unsewn strips of cloth slung around hips and shoulder. They were speaking lies not only against political leaders of our time because of intra party hatred but also against such national heroes who died earlier, leaders like Quid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder not only of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan but also the unqualified leader of the Muslims of the subcontinent at that particular moment of history.
At Mina when a fellow haji became sick after hurling pebbles to jamarat, pillars symbolizing shaytaan, we were trying to hire a wheel-chair from a young boy. Not knowing his nationality, I asked him whether he is a Bangali, identifying him by his ethnicity. He promptly reacted, what Bangali Bangali, I am Bangladeshi. In fact he was reacting because of the national chauvinism and the debate going on in Bangladesh over national identity. This reflects his attitude.
In the Bait al Haram Makkah I was trying to find out way to the King Abdul Aziz gate. I approached a khadim, helper. From his face he appeared to be a Bangali. I told him are you a Bangali. May you guide us towards the King Abdul Aziz gate? He sharply reacted. What you say Bangali Bangli. I am Indian. This also reflects his mental makeup.
While waiting for the elevator in the hotel lobby a haji from Pakistan still wearing the ihram outfit, realizing that I am from Bangladesh said: You are not my brother. You yourself left us, not that we left you. I grabbed his hand and said: I am not your brother. This I said three-four times still holding his hand. He realized his mistake and said you are my Muslim brother. I left his hand and said: Your hajj has been saved. How can you say another Muslim that he is not your brother? This reflects the deep sorrow of the Pakistanis for the separation of East Pakistan now Bangladesh from Pakistan. But whatever is the inner grief, such statement cannot be made by a Muslim and he realized his mistake and regretted.
While visiting various historical sites like the Jabal al Rahman, the Mount of Mercy and other important historical locations the guide from Bangladesh spoke against the Shii and the Jews although the context did not demand that. These reflect the attitude of the some of the members of the ummah, the Muslim community which is nothing but national chauvinism and not in keeping with the true spirit of precept and teachings of Islam, its norms and ethics.
I shall now narrate an incident where the people of west Asia and North Africa are involved. While going to Ayesha Masjid, we hired a microbus. The driver was a Saudi Arabian. One of the haji in the transport was from Morocco speaking Arabic. He picked up a debate with the driver. The Moroccan was saying that although he speaks Arabic he is not an Arab but Maghreb. The Saudi driver was insisting that he is an Arab. This also shows deep nationalistic attitude which is engraved in our mind that is against the spirit and essence of unity.
The most positive thing I noticed was that university teachers were taking classes of their students in both the mosques, the Masjid al Haram Makkah and the Masjid al Nabawi Madinah. The most striking thing which drew my attention was that I found parents taking their kinds to both the mosques and themselves teaching them the reading and recitation of the Quran. Imagine what could be the result of taking classes in the premises of the Masjid al Haram Makkah and the Masjid al Nabawi Madinah and how it would help to shape the mental makeup and vision of such students and kids. I have not seen any father in Bangladesh take his children to mosque and themselves teaching them the reading and recitation of the Quran. For me this very incident was the fragrance of hajj for if I had not performed hajj possibly I could not imagine how people can prepare the next generation of Muslims to take up the responsibility that the Owner of the Kaaba wants us to shoulder and take the leadership to make His deen victorious.
Having said all these, I must reiterate that the hajj has the transforming power and it brings changes in the life and thought-pattern of the hajis. The majority of the pilgrims become committed to work for the ideals of Islam. The question is how we can replicate our hajj experiences in real life and this is possible by trying to understand the true meanings of the Quran. Indeed in real life majority of the hajis give up previously held views. We need to understand Islam. This is the deen, the last revealed religion of Allah that can remove and expunge from the society bitterness, factionalism, prejudice, narrow-mindedness and the deep scar of national jingoism.*
The writer is the Chairman of Islamic Information Bureau Bangladesh.
Shah Abdul Halim