The benefits accruing to pilgrims are numerous and varied; religious, financial, social, political and intellectual. Down the millennia pilgrims have witnessed these benefits. This truth comes out at its sharpest in their numerous narratives and travelogues.
There is hardly a pilgrim who returns home without experiencing some of these benefits. It is commonplace that each act of worship has its own benefits. However, the benefits gained from Hajj are, relatively speaking, much more palpable and pronounced, observable to both pilgrims and non-pilgrims.
Winning Allah’s pleasure is, of course, its greatest benefit, which cannot be matched by any other gain imaginable. Accordingly, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) clarified that on accomplishing Hajj a pilgrim is akin to a new-born baby in being pure and sinless.
Amazingly enough, the moment one intends to perform Hajj, a sea change sets in one’s mindset, psychological make-up; in sum, on one’s entire outlook on life and benefits start pouring in immediately. For Hajj represents, so to speak, the pervading spirit of all the prescribed acts of worship in Islam.
The constant mention and remembrance of Allah and chanting certain formulae during Hajj are the unmistakable hallmarks of dhikr (remembrance of Allah) which permeate Hajj. This mention of Allah at appointed times during the course of Hajj also captures the spirit of salah, which is incorporated into Hajj.
A set of certain restrictions, forbidding pilgrims the use of otherwise perfectly lawful and wholesome things during the state of ihram (consecration), reminds one readily of the prohibitions placed on one during the month-long fasting during Ramadan.
Taken in this sense, Hajj incorporates features which are special to fasting. The journey undertaken to perform Hajj, often entailing inconvenience and suffering, re-enacts the essential component of the Hijrah (migrating in the cause of Allah). For in both of these acts of worship one willingly undergoes discomfort and emotional, material and monetary loss for the sake of Allah.
By the same token, some features specific to Jihad (striving in Allah’s cause) also characterize Hajj as the pilgrim makes sacrifices related to both his body and belongings. It goes without saying that to perform Hajj the pilgrim incurs expenses. This reinforces the spirit underlying zakah that man is only a trustee over the material resources endowed on him by Allah and that he should spend in consonance with Allah’s directives. Animal sacrifice, another prescribed act of worship in Islam, happens to be one of the major rites of Hajj itself.
Viewed thus, Hajj displays the quintessence of all the main acts of worship in Islam; prayer, fasting, zakah, hijrah, jihad and dhikr. One may therefore, maintain that this single act of worship, Hajj, renews in one the spirit pervading several acts of worship which is a benefit beyond all measure.
Furthermore, each rite of Hajj is characterized by many benefits which have both functional and catalytic value. The donning of ihram makes one realize paradoxically both the importance and worthlessness of clothes, of which one is habitual since birth. Clothes invest one with identity; individual, social and ethnic. Cloth is doubtless one of Allah’s major bounties bestowed on man.
At Allah’s command however, one stops using one’s traditional clothes during the state of ihram. This amounts, in a sense, to removing an artificial barrier to the unity of mankind. Pilgrims dressed in frugal ihram display the essential sameness of mankind, cutting across distinctions of social class, financial status and ethnic origin.
The strong individuality exhibited, rather reinforced by one’s preferential clothes, is instantly replaced by the awe-inspiring unity of mankind, with each one of the millions of pilgrims, assembled every year during the Hajj period, represented only as an obedient servant of Allah. Ihram thus instructs one in the ideal of mankind’s unity, which has assumed greater importance and relevance in today’s conflict-riven and disunited world.
More importantly, the donning of ihram places certain restrictions on one, ranging from refraining from sexual relations with one’s wife to hunting or wearing perfume, etc. This further infuses and strengthens a spirit of self-restraint. A pilgrim in ihram is not allowed to kill even an insect. He is not to indulge in fighting, obscenity or evil. Avoiding aggression and controlling animal instincts are thus the benefits arising out of donning ihram.
Talbiyah (chanting during Hajj) is of immense benefit for the pilgrim. At one level, it facilitates the bonding between man and Allah, between the creature and the Creator. At another, it helps one discover one’s true self – of wholesale surrender to the Supreme Lord.
One’s sense of proximity with Allah is further heightened by the sacred locale of Hajj sites. The House of Allah and other structures and places with thousands of years of rich history and their association with such august figures as Allah’s Messengers, from the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad (peace be upon them) to the latter’s Companions, make one inhale and imbibe the sense of the sacred and sublimate one spiritually and emotionally.
At the same time, this grand setting humbles one, making one all the more conscious of one’s failings and lapses in being true and faithful to one’s covenant with one’s Lord. Psychologically and morally it brings such benefits which a pilgrim treasures throughout his life.
The talbiyah and Hajj-setting help a pilgrim release and ennoble his feelings, especially towards his Creator and Lord. The sense of liberation and purgation is enhanced by the immediate environment and constant mention of Allah which form part of Hajj.
The visit to Haram (the Sacred Mosque) further heightens the sense of the hallowed and the sacred. It is innate in human nature to exteriorize, objectify and perceive the sacred with sense perception.
In Islam the sacred is abstract and rightly belongs to the domain of al-ghayb (the unseen which is beyond the realm of human sense perception). This natural desire on man’s part is, nonetheless gratified, to a certain degree, on seeing and going round the House of Allah, a concrete object yet enjoying such a close association with the sacred and the divine. The visit thus has a sublimating and exhilarating effect on the pilgrim’s spirit. Needless to add, this benefit is not obtainable anywhere else.
Furthermore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is on record as saying that a prayer offered within the precincts of the Sacred Mosque is equivalent to one thousand prayers offered in any other mosque. This benefit of Hajj is too great to be disregarded by any Muslim.
Tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka`bah) broadens and reinforces one’s spiritual benefits. This rite draws the pilgrim into the proximity of the sanctum sanctorum. Standing near the Ka`bah, praying at the spot on which the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) had once stood, visiting the Zamzam well and drinking its water, and performing Sa`i between Safa and Marwah all being part of the rites of Hajj, help the pilgrim re-enact sacred history.
This benefit, once again, is special to Hajj. While regarding himself as part of the grand tradition, the pilgrim gains firm religious conviction. In other words, revivification of faith is one of the great benefits of Hajj.
The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.