Universal Lessons of Hajj & Sacrifice

Muslims dont worship the Kaabah, they worship what it repesents the ONE GOD, the God of Abraham(pbuh)

Malcolm X -“There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.” –

“America Malcolm X -“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white – but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”

The Universal Lessons of Haj

As Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori explain in Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, “Faith is accepted and sustained through symbol and metaphor, the very stuff of imagination which not only enlarges adherents’ perceptions but reorders them so that the validity and rationality of religious faith and practice seem only natural.” Pilgrims are to contemplate on the inner meaning of the rites and, using their abilities to imagine and innovate, apply the significance of those rites beyond the Hajj to their everyday lives.

Ebrahim Moosa notes in Pilgrims at Heart: “After paying homage to the two women Eve and Hagar in the rites of pilgrimage, how can some Muslims still violate the rights and dignity of women in the name of Islam? Is this not a contradiction?” Indeed, God’s commentary on women’s dignity is nestled within the Hajj rituals honoring Eve and Hagar .”

Indeed, the Qur’an teaches: “I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in my way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other.” (3:195)

Clearly, the white sea of men and women side by side performing tawaf (circling) around the Kaaba (the stone building Muslims believe was originally built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ishmael) should lay to rest any claim that Islam — as opposed to some Muslims – degrades women.

Hagar asked Abraham(pbuh) “Oh Abraham, where are you going, leaving us here without any people or sustenance?”

He gave no reply. When she asked again and found he would not reply,

she asked, “Is this ordained by God?”

After Abraham replied yes,

Hagar faithfully answered, “God will not let us die then.”

As the pilgrims in Mecca complete the annual ritual of pilgrimage today, Muslims across the globe will begin the Id al-Adha(Eid – Ul- Zuha), the three-day Feast of Sacrifice, in solidarity with them.

For Muslims seeking to make sense of the annual pilgrimage, a question arises: “is the hajj only an elaborate ritual?”

Hajj literally means, “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.”

Exile, sacrifice and atonement underscore the commandment of pilgrimage in Muslim religious life. The faithful re-enact the pilgrimage rituals in imitation of their spiritual forbears. They relive exile by treading in the footsteps of Abraham. But the hajj also recalls the temporary exile of Adam and Eve, who wandered the earth after their expulsion from paradise. According to Muslim tradition, Adam and Eve reconciled with God in the desert of Arabia . The spot where they met each other again and atoned – an obligatory destination for pilgrims – is called Arafat, from the Arabic word ‘arafa, “to know.”

The theme of knowing and imagining the divine is embroidered through the trials of Abraham and his family. After Abraham’s first child, Ishmael, was born to his slave wife Hagar, he was confronted by the jealousy of his other wife, Sarah, who was then childless. God upgraded this domestic squabble into a legacy issue for the Patriarch and his admirers. But he ordered the dutiful Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael to Arabia .

Years later, Muslim tradition holds, Abraham reconciled with Hagar and Ishmael. But more trials awaited. This time Abraham had to do the unthinkable: Sacrifice his Son. Mainstream Muslim tradition believes that the son in question was Ishmael, while Jews/Chrisitans view holds that it was Isaac, Sarah’s son. But after a miraculous substitution of Ishmael (or Isaac) by a ram, Abraham’s reputation was sealed as the “friend of God.”

“For Allah did take Abraham for (an intimate) friend ” (4:125)

Abraham (pbuh), is an important prophet in Islam, and the father of the Prophet Ismail (Ishmael), his firstborn son, who is considered the Father of the Arabs. Ibrahim(Abraham) is commonly termed Khalil Allah, Friend of God .

To express their loathing of evil, the pilgrims will participate in that ancient drama of Abraham and Ishmael. They will first stone three pillars, each symbolizing Satan’s failed attempts to mislead Abraham’s family . Then, in a place called Mina, meaning “desires,” each pilgrim will sacrifice an animal. With this act they seek to replace their destructive desires with productive ones. Away from Mecca, non-pilgrims with means will also slaughter animals as a show of hospitality to friends, family and the indigent. As a performance, the pilgrimage links people to a past shared by several Abrahamic traditions, just as, by bringing together Muslims from a great multiplicity of cultures, it celebrates the diversity of our common humanity.

The Hajj is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the great prophets and teachers of faith. Pilgrims symbolically relive the experience of exile and atonement undergone by Adam and Eve . They also retrace the frantic footsteps of the wife of Abraham, Hagar, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marva searching for water for her thirsty baby (which according to Muslim tradition, God answered with the well of Zam Zam). Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for the sake of God. God later substituted a ram in place of his son.

The faithful hope after Hajj is that it will bring about a deep spiritual transformation, one that will make him/her a better person. If such a change within does not occur, then the Hajj was merely a physical and material exercise devoid of any spiritual significance.

The fact that millions of Muslims transcending geographical, linguistic, level of practice, cultural, ethnic, color, economic and social barriers converge in unison on Mecca , attests to the universality of the Hajj.

One of the most celebrated Western Hajjis (one who has completed the Hajj) is none other than African-American civil rights leader El-Hajj Malik El Shabbaz, more commonly known as Malcolm X. The man who was renowned for preaching that whites were “devils” — especially the blond, blue-eyed ones — profoundly reassessed these views during the Hajj. This transformation, of course, sealed his break with the Black nationalist movement of the Nation of Islam.

Contrary to the teachings of the Nation, he concluded that Islam encompassed all of humanity and transcended race and culture. Malcolm X later said, ” In my 39 years on this Earth, the holy city of Mecca had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of all and felt like a complete human.”

In Mecca , he discovered himself mixing with, “fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was whitest of white .” Malcolm X was so inspired by what he witnessed, that, in letters to friends and relatives, he wrote, ” America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem .”

Upon returning to America , he embarked on a mission to enlighten both blacks and whites with his new views.

Indeed, the Qur’an teaches: “We created you from a single pair of a male and female (Adam and Eve), and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other and not that you might despise each other. The most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you” (Al Hujurat: 13) . This is a great celebration of the differences and at the same time unity of all of humanity.

Another essential spiritual message of the Hajj is one of humility to God and His supremacy and control over all that we know. The multitude of people and their inner beliefs and practices are all to be judged by God and God alone in His infinite wisdom and full knowledge. Indeed, as the Qur’an insists, “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith, truth stands out clear from error.” (2: 256)

The result of a successful Hajj is a rich inner peace, which is manifested outwardly in the values of justice, honesty, respect, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy. And it is these values – all attributes of God almighty — that are indispensable to us all if we are just to get along in this world.


The All Knowing and Sublime Creator has declared the rights of each of His creation, and says in his divine revelation(s)

“It is not their meat (of sacrifice) nor their blood that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you: and proclaim the Good News to all who do right”.

-Holy Quran 22:37

“the Lord of creatures (Prajapati) created this whole world to be the sustenance of the vital spirit; both the immovable and the movable (creation is) the food of the vital spirit. What is destitute of motion is the food of those endowed with locomotion; (animals) without fangs (are the food) of those with fangs, those without hands of those who possess hands, and the timid of the bold. The eater who daily even devours those destined to be his food, commits no sin; for the creator himself created both the eaters and those who are to be eaten ” (V.28-30).

-The law book of Manu (200 BC-AD 200),

The Purpose of Hajj: Allah says: [And (remember) when We prepared for Abraham the place of the (holy) House, saying: Ascribe thou no thing as partner unto Me, and purify My House for those who make the round (thereof) and those who stand and those who bow and make prostration. And proclaim unto mankind the pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine.] (Al-Hajj 22: 26-27) ]

“Your Lord hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship; the faith of your father Abraham (is yours)..So establish worship, pay the poor due, and hold fast to Allah.” (Qur’an 22:78

Islam regards many of the biblical patriarchs as prophets of God, and hence as Muslims (i.e., monotheists).

Abraham and his son Ismail are said to have built the Kaaba in Mecca. ( Qur’an 2:125).

Abraham also has an important role in one of the Pillars of Islam, the Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque. The principal aspect of the Hajj is remembering Abraham’s sacrifice of Ismail (Abraham’s firstborn son) and his path to the altar where Iblees ( Satan ) attempted to dissuade him three times. Those places where Satan appeared are marked with three symbolic stones where pilgrims throw stones .

Moreover a part of the Hajj is a commemoration of the sacrifice and efforts of the wife of Abraham, Hajre, Hagar, to find water for her son Ismail, when he was near dead with thirst . She ran between the two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times and this ritual, Saaee (means effort/struggle in Arabic) is mandatory for all pilgrims to Mecca. During her quest for water she saw that a spring of fresh water had erupted near where her son Ismail lay.

According to the Qur’an, Abraham reached the conclusion that anything subject to disappearance could not be worthy of worship, and thus became a monotheist ( Qura’n 6:76–83).

Abraham said : “My Lord is He who giveth life and death.’

King Nimrod(atheist) replied : “I give life and death.’

Said Abraham : “But it is God that causeth the sun to rise from the East. Do then(you) cause it to rise from the West.’

Thus was he(king) confounded(confused) who (in arrogance) rejected God.

Abraham said, “Nay, your Lord is the Lord of heavens and the earth, He who created you (from nothing) : I am a witness to this (truth).”

As usual, when falsehood is defeated on intellectual grounds it resorts to plotting and oppression.

“So naught was the answer of (Abraham’s) people except that they said : Slay him(Abraham) or burn him ” (29:24)

Abraham could have given up his message and his beliefs to save himself from the fire. Nay he chose martyrdom.He chose to die for Allah’s message to live. He chose to step into the fire of ignorance and tyranny in order to save humanity from the fire of ignorance and tyranny. So he was cast into the fire.

But Allah had a different plan for Abraham and he was unhurt by the grace of Allah :

“But Allah did save him from the fire. Verily in this are signs for people who believe ” (29:24).

“We(Allah) said “O fire ! Be cool and a means of safety for Abraham’ ” (21:69).

“For Allah did take Abraham for (an intimate) friend ” (4:125)

The Enemies : Slay him or burn him ” (29:24)

“Abraham was indeed a model. Devoutly obedient to Allah, and true in faith, and he joined not gods with Allah ” (16:20).

“Lo ! Abraham said to his father Azar : Do you take idols for God ? For I see you and your people in manifest error ? ” (6:74).

And throughout his century of prophethood and service of God, as Abraham grew older, his desire to have a son grew stronger. The Prophet Abraham desperately longed for a son but his wife Hajar was barren.

“O my Lord ! Grant me a righteous son !” (37:100)

Against every expectation, Allah fullfilled his promise of making Abraham the seed of a great line of Prophets, the root of the great universal religions.

“So we gave him the good news of a forbearing boy” (37:101).

The name Ishmael was also chosen by AlMighty Himself: Genesis 16:11:

“And the Angel of the Lord said unto her [Hager] : ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.”‘ Ishmael means “God hears.”

Genesis 17:20 : “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. Twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. “

That covenant was made with Abraham and Ishmael:

Genesis 17:10 This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

Allah brought mercy to the agedness, loneliness, hopelessness and anguish of his trustworthy Messenger.

Ismael being the promise of future generations was in some sense the whole world for Abraham.

Abraham(PBUH) was to be tried once more.

Abraham(PBUH) had a vision in which he was commanded by Allah to slaughter his only son.

It is not possible to convey in words what it must have meant for Abraham to be commanded by Allah (ta’ala) to sacrifice his only son Ismail.How can Abraham take his beloved son, the fruit of his life, the joy of his heart, the meaning of his living and staying, his Ismail, and hold him on the ground, put a knife to his throat and kill him ?

Within him, there must have been a war?

The war between God and Ismail !

The difficulty of choice !

Love of God or Love of self ?

Prophethood or Fatherhood ?

Loyalty to God or loyalty to family ?

Faith or Emotion ?

Consciousness or Instinct ?

Responsibility or Pleasure ?

Duty or Right ?

Tawheed (Monotheism) or Shirk (Polytheism) ?

And finally, God or Ismail ?

What should Abraham(PBUH) choose ?

He doubted and wavered under the crushing force of pain and anguish.

Only after the third vision did he finally decide to carry out Allah’s command.

This is reflected in the hajj ritual of stoning the three idols representing Iblis who tempted Abraham to disobey Allah.

But Abraham chose God and gave up Ismail.

Abraham said to Ismail : “O my Son, I see in a vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now see what is your view ? ” (37:102)

Realising his father’s distress, Ismail gave him these comforting words : “O my father ! Do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah so wills, patient and constant ” (37:102)

Abraham had consulted his son who willingly offered himself to Allah’s command. The choice of Abraham was sacrifice. That of Ismail was self-sacrifice : Martyrdom.

And so he slaughtered Ismail. But, by Allah’s grace, the knife did not cut.

Abraham received a sheep and was called by Allah :

“O Abraham ! You have confirmed the Vision Thus indeed do We reward those who do right This is indeed the manifest trial !” (37:104-105)

Brothers and Sisters, Abraham gained everything and kept Ismail.

This means that the God of Abraham is not thirsty for blood

Mankind has needs but God has no needs. Allah o­nly wants o­ne thing from His slaves.

“And I (Allah) created not the Jinn and mankind except they should worship Me (alone). I seek not any provision from them nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Verily, Allah is the All-Provider, Owner of Power, the Most Strong.” [51:56-58]

“Say He is Allah, the One and Only God, the Eternal, Absolute. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him!” Qur’an112:1-4

Allah (ta’ala) promoted Ismail to the highest peak of being the great sacrifice of God without bringing any harm to him.


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