Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

A slightly irreverent look at the Hadj

 by Irfan Yusuf

If Byron Bay locals thought they had it bad with visitors, they should spare a thought for the people of Mecca in central-western Saudi Arabia. Each year, over 5 million people visit this sacred Muslim city.

The biggest numbers are at the time of Hadj, the sacred pilgrimage all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it are expected to make at least once in their lifetime. This year, over 2.5 million people are expected to converge on this ancient city for this annual assembly of monotheism.
The pilgrims from just about every part of the planet. Despite the enormous cultural, linguistic and sectarian differences amongst Muslims, there is a surprising degree of consensus when it comes to the rituals of the Hadj. These ancient rites date back 1,400 years and are based on an even older story.
Some people in Australia talk about “Judeo-Christian” values, as if they haven’t quite figured out that there are at least 3 monotheistic faiths that emerged from the Middle East. And that’s not including all the other monotheistic faiths (such as Sikhism).
Really, what we should be talking about are “Abrahamic” values. The triplet faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism all respect and honour Abraham, an Iraqi chap regarded by all three traditions as the father of ethical monotheism.
According to Islamic tradition, Ibrahim (Abraham) married an Egyptian woman named Hajira (Hagar) who bore him a son named Ismail (Ishmael). He also took a second wife Sarah (pronounced slightly differently in Biblical English) who bore him a second son Ishaq (Isaac).
For some domestic reasons, Ibrahim feels the need to leave his first wife in a desert valley named “Bakkah” with the baby Ismail. Like all mothers, the primary concern of Hajira is the survival of her toddler. But where will she find water in this wilderness?
She heads for a hill, finds nothing and so heads in the opposite direction to another hill. She again finds nothing. In desperation, she runs back and forth around 7 times before setting eyes on her young boy kicking the ground to uncover a spring. Quickly she builds a make-shift well.
Within a short period, the well attracts the attention of other travellers through this area. Hajira watches her son become a grown man, and receives a visit from Ibrahim again. Ibrahim and Ismail are ordered to build a temple in honour of the one true invisible God. The temple was a simple cubic structure, in the direction of which people would pray.
The valley of Bakkah eventually became known as Mecca. The cubic temple is known as the “Kaaba” (an Arabic word which just means “Cube”), and is traditionally draped in a black embroidered cloth. The well kicked to the surface by the infant Ismail is known as the “Well of Zam Zam”.
The elders teach that the reward for a successful Hadj is nothing less than forgiveness of all sins and paradise. In many Muslim cultures, this means people tend to leave performing Hadj to the end of their life. In the Indian sub-Continent, where my parents come from, people tend to perform Hadj after their kids have grown up, married and left home. Many cynics recite an old Hindi/Urdu phrase which can be roughly translated as: “After eating several thousand mice, the fat cat finally decides to head off for Hadj!”
In places closer to our shores, people tend to go much earlier. In Malaysia, it is common for young couples to treat the Hadj as a kind of spiritual honeymoon. According to the Prophet Muhammad, a person who married has completed half the faith. So if you’re a boofy bloke like me and you are lucky enough to marry a pretty Malay (apologies for the tautology) lass, it’s like a heavenly 2-for-1 deal. You get half your faith and your sins forgiven in one go!
(And for anyone who believes the neo-Con fictions about Islam, the deal doesn’t even include the fictitious 72 heavenly virgins!)
So what on earth does all this have to do with Australia? Well, each year Australia sends a fair few people off to perform the Hadj. When they come back, they are given the honorific title of “Hadji” or “al-Hadj”. If their Hadj was successfully completed, they should come back with a clean slate. That means their sins are washed away and they are as pure as the day they were born.
(Anyone who has had to deal with Saudi officials at Jeddah airport will know why forgiveness of one’s sins is furnished so readily.)
In Australia, the Hadj trip is performed by people of various ages. More young people accompany their elderly parents on this difficult journey.
Then there are the different nationalities and their interesting idiosyncrasies. Yes, Muslims can be politically incorrect.
In Mecca, all street signs are in various languages. But there are certain signs you’ll only find in Urdu, Bengali and Hindi. These signs simply state: “Spitting here is forbidden!”
Why? Because in many parts of the Indian sub-Continent, people chew a special blend of nuts and paste wrapped in betel leaf known as “paan”. When they have finished chewing on the stuff, it tends to be spat out into gutters or even against walls, leaving a nasty and distinct reddish-brown stain.
Turks travel in large groups and always stay with their group wherever they travel. They are extremely fussy about cleanliness. In one part of the Hadj, all pilgrims stay in tents on a plain called Mina for the night. The place becomes tent city for the night, with a range of facilities including toilets and kitchens. You know you are in the Turkish section because even the tents are sparkling and shiny-new. The sand looks like someone has sprayed and rubbed Mr Sheen into it. And the toilets are spotless to the extent you could make a sandwich on their floors.
Cronulla readers will be pleased to note that according to a reliable source (my mum), Lebanese pilgrims basically spend most of their Hadj sitting around cracking jokes and drinking coffee strong enough to keep you awake until the next Hadj.
Nigerians are tall and heavy-set. A major part of the pilgrimage is to circle the cubic temple seven times in an anti-clockwise direction, all the while shouting “Labayk! Allah humma Labbayk!” (which is roughly translated as: “I’m here, my Lord, I’m here!”). It is a good idea not to slip as there are generally hundreds of thousands of people behind you ready to trample you to death. Nigerian pilgrims tend to be taller and stronger than anyone else. And when you see a group of them with arms clasped rushing toward you screaming the prayer, it’s scarier than seeing 500 All-Blacks doing the Haka and poking their tongues out.
I have no idea what Kiwi pilgrims are like. I doubt they scream the Haka at any stage of the rituals.
In fact, I don’t even know what Australian pilgrims are like. Why? Because I’ve never been myself. But my mum’s been at least twice. And I have lots of friends who have been. They all tell me the same story.
(OK, I’ll admit mum does exaggerate a little.)
Despite the weird and wonderful characteristics of the various cultural groups at the Hadj, everyone dresses the same. Blokes wear a white-coloured two-piece towel thing, and ladies wear some additional stuff which is also white coloured. If you landed in Mecca at Hajj time and you didn’t know where you were, you’d think it was a huge toga party. Except at this party, everyone is praying and no one gets pissed or stoned.
Yep, Mecca is a little different to Byron Bay. Although you never know. Uncle Rex might decide to convert to Islam. Maybe then we could call him "Sheik Rex". This article really is getting worse. I'd better stop.
So that’s the end of my slightly irreverent look at Hadj. For more information, go to your local mosque and convert. Then get on the first plane you can to Mecca, and you might arrive in time for the last rites.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

72 heavenly virgins

Irfan Yusuf says: "(And for anyone who believes the neo-Con fictions about Islam, the deal doesn’t even include the fictitious 72 heavenly virgins!)"

Maybe Irfan is not aware of some aspects of Islam or maybe he is being dishonest but Webdiary should really challenge this stuff since it is so widely documented on some of the Islamists own websites, for example Hamas who are widely regarded in the Muslim world even though some countries in the West consider them to be a terrorist organisation.

Malcolm X

I think my favorite story concerning the Hadj is that of the radical militant Malcolm X. I'm not sure if its myth or true but supposedly after converting to Islam and joining the Nation of Islam group Malcolm became a Hadji. It was a life changing experience for him to see so many people of different race and colour all peacefully involved in the same purpose.  Malcolm returned to America with a much more conciliatory attitude towards white people. Of course, this may have led to his subsequent assassination but for a short time he was enlightened to the oneness of humanity.

No civilization lasts forever

Thank you for a fascinating story, Irfan. Speaking of crowds, I just came across a post which might be of interest. 'No civilization lasts forever, and there is no political, economic, social, educational, religious or other 'solution' that will make the members of any civilization suddenly and radically change their behaviour' - The crowd is always wiser than the experts

Diary of the Hajj / Hadj

As millions of pilgrims stream into Saudi Arabia for the Hadj /Hajj, the BBC's Rabiya Parekh is writing a diary for the BBC News website. It is immediately obvious that it becomes too difficult to write about and participate in the sacred pilgrimage at the same time. Rabiya Parekh's diary at presents ends on Thursday

The site includes a place for Hadji to share their experiences and the material here is well worth reading.  Almost all the actual Hadji writing of their experience describe it as life changing. They write of how they see the essential equality of the individual participants and how they feel affirmed in being swept up in the great flow of the faithful - one of many at one with the many.

Nobel prize winner Elias Canetti, in Crowds and Power, describes the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca as a "slow crowd, formed gradually by tributaries from the many different countries".  For a Muslim, writes Canetti, "Anyone who has not been on this pilgrimage has not really lived."  Sounds like an travel advertisement doesn't it.

I'd love to hear more about the nitty gritty of the experience, especially as it is lived by a Muslim traveling back from the West to that point where the Faith originated and the millions of faithful have gathered. What's it like to walk through airport security scanned by suspicious eyes, board a flight that must carry many with the same purpose to their journey as yourself and then clear airport security at the other end, entering a land where you aren't viewed with distrust? And then I'd like to know about the various paths pilgrims take, the long personal journeys of spartan comfort for some and the package tours with air-conditioned tents for others. 

Most of all I want to know whether this feeling within the flow of the faithful, the feeling of being an equal amongst all, is based on what is actually experienced or what is perceived by those predisposed to feel it.  So , for example, is there actually a situation something like what I might experience going down to a crowed beach -- where everyone seems a little overprotective of the patch they've claimed and you sense the falseness of some smiles -- or does the feeling within the hajj reflect the actuality accurately with people genuinely engaging with each other as equals.

Unlikely to ever convert to Islam, and knowing I'll never pull off a Burton (despite the growth of a healthy post-holiday period beard), I truly hope that through my own journeys this year I'll befriend a Hadji who can describe to me his or her experience in all its rich detail.

Monty Irfan

As I read this piece, the imagery reminded me of scenes from Life of Brian.

Brilliant and many thanks for the chuckles.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 6 days ago