Hajj proves religion can inspire peace

We should take inspiration from the Hajj, which brings millions together in peace, to mend our ways and pave a new path forward for humanity.

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. [AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool]

Pilgrimage – the devotional practice of journeying towards a site deemed sacred and collectively engaging in acts of worship and faith there –  has been a fundamental part of the human experience since time immemorial. It is a widespread and important practice in many religions. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Christians and Muslims all have pilgrimage as part of their religious worship. The right and need to assemble for common goals are indeed innately and intrinsically human. Even the American Constitution deems the right to assemble a necessary legal and fundamental right in its First Amendment.

Pilgrimages, which bring thousands – and sometimes millions – of human beings together in a single site, are usually completely peaceful. Unlike the participants of similarly large secular gatherings like sporting events and music festivals, devoted pilgrims rarely resort to violence or harm their environment. No doubt there are some fanatics who assemble people for supposed religious goals and entice them towards violent campaigns, but their actions are not representative of pilgrimages, or the core values of any religion.

Our world today is plagued by war, violence, murder, rape, burglary, racism, domestic violence, child abuse, drug dependency, sex trafficking, hunger, homelessness, fraud in every industry, corruption in institutions and government, mental health crises, and an escalating climate emergency. The value of human life and labour is forgotten as most services and industries turned to automation and came to be dominated by machines a la, A Brave New World. Meanwhile, most secular forms of assembly and organisation have proved themselves to be recipes not for unity and peace, but for hate, harm and chaos.

In this context, we should perhaps turn to religious pilgrimages to find a way to rekindle peaceful human interaction and pave a new, peaceful path forward for humanity.

As noted by Patrick Deneen in his 2018 book, Why Liberalism Failed, the mission of modernity and liberal society, namely, to create a peaceful world predicated on individual liberation and freedom, has proven to be a massive failure.

As such, a fresh look at conventions that are as old as Adam might just save the day for us. Perhaps modernity could and should be replaced with, literal, antiquity!

The right for human beings to assemble for worship and the right to protect places of worship is emphatically voiced in the Quran:

“Had Allah not repelled [the aggression of] some people by means of others, destruction would have come upon monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah’s Name is often mentioned. Allah will certainly help those help Him. Allah is truly All-Powerful, Almighty.” (Surah al-Hajj (22): 40)

For Muslims, this is the month of the Hajj, the universal pilgrimage. The Hajj – which means to make a firm intention – is the pilgrimage to the House of Allah in Mecca. This house which we call the Ka’ba was rebuilt by Abraham, who is considered the founding father of three important religions: namely Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Adherents of these three faiths all claim they are representatives of the Abrahamic Faith. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in uniting members of the Abrahamic Faith. This seems to be a noble initiative and indeed one that the Quran calls for:

Say, [O Prophet,] “O People of the Book! Jews and Christians. Let us come to word that is common amongst us: that we will worship none but Allah, associate none with Him, nor take one another as lords instead of Allah…” (Surah Ali Imran (3): 64)

Abraham was also the prophet who laid down the foundations for the rituals of the Hajj known as “Manasik”. The descendants of Abraham observed the Manasik correctly for a long while, but eventually began to corrupt the rules and changed many rituals. By the time Prophet Muhammad was born, the Hajj had lost its original beauty of worship and was barely recognisable. Prophet Muhammad restored the Manasik to their original pristine Abrahamic convention when he performed his Hajj – which is the Hajj all Muslims perform today.

Uniting people of the Abrahamic faith would require the faithful to adhere to the Civilizational Values (known as the Millah) Abraham promoted andpractisedd. Most of the values of the Millah are represented in the Muslim Hajj. While Muslims don their hajj garb, they are not allowed to argue, bicker and fight. In that state, they are not allowed to swat a fly, stamp a mosquito, scratch themselves such that blood comes out or hunt animals. They are not allowed to inflict harm on themselves or others; otherwise, they must pay a heavy penalty.

The Quran states that the area around the Ka’ba – known as the Haram – is a sanctuary and a place of safety and security. Harm cannot exist there. More than two million Muslims abide by this code every year. There are exceptionally few fights, robberies, or cases of abuse or harassment during the Hajj. There is an air of unity that is unmatched in any human assembly.

Let’s remember what Malcolm X wrote in his 1964 Letter from Mecca:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes 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.

During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”

Unity through the worship of One God, unity of all peoples, at all times, and the absence of inflicting harm is the essence of the Muslim assembly at the Hajj. This is the code of the Abrahamic Faith which is incorporated in the message of Prophet Mohammad. Those who frown upon religion and Islam might want to take a second look at this universal providence! Influencers of the world who wish to rid the world of its ills and man-made problems will do well to follow a code that is steeped in formula that are revealed from the Divine Who is the Most Merciful and the Most Compassionate.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.