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"Removing the Middleman" Chapter 2: Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow): Verses 196-197


Perform the pilgrimage (Hajj) and the visitation (Umrah) for the sake of God, but if you are prevented, then use whatever offering is easy to obtain and do not shave your head until the offering reaches its destination (completion). Now, if one of you is sick or has an ailment of the head, then fasting, alms, or sacrifice will be acceptable (as a substitute). And when (if ) you are secure, then combine the visitation (Umrah) with the pilgrimage (Hajj) and take whatever offering is easy to secure. But whoever cannot afford, he should fast for three days during the pilgrimage and for seven days upon his return—these ten days will complete (the offering). This exception is for those whose families do not reside in (the vicinity of ) the Sacred Mosque (Ka’bah). Keep your duty to God, and be cognizant that God is capable of punishing severely (those who ignore his guidance).

The months of pilgrimage are well known. Then, whoever intends to perform Hajj in those months should refrain from (1) indecent speech, (2) abusing others, and (3) fighting (verbally or physically); God knows whenever you do any good. Take provision for yourselves while knowing that the best provision is your sense of responsibility (to God and to your fellow men). Therefore, be mindful of your duty to Me (God), O people with understanding. 95


95 It is important to understand that every act of worship has a significant human component to it. God mentioned in the Qur’an that Hajj is a debt owed by the faithful to God and that in paying off this debt (performing Hajj) God wants us, as people of understanding who think before we act, to recognize the presence of so many people during Hajj and ensure a meaningful experience by respecting the space and rights of our fellow men. We should not make hurtful comments or abuse others verbally or physically. However, the reality of these issues is far from this: the haggling and trampling of people near the black stone (a stone embedded on the side of the Ka’bah, which according to legend came from Heaven), the abuse by religious police, the pushing and shoving of women, the littering of garbage, and many other prohibited acts are contrary to what we are told to do in the Qur’an. To make the experience of pilgrimage more of what it should be, we need better planning and logistics, including pollution-free transportation, semi-permanent accommodations, and even personal hygiene facilities. Hajj is a global Muslim responsibility, and there should be a permanent multinational task force and adequate resources to plan and execute Hajj in the best possible manner to improve the quality of the human experience of performing Hajj.


One of the beauties of Islam is its flexibility, and the concern expressed by God to enable everyone to get the full benefits of Hajj and other Islamic obligations no matter what the circumstances may be or what individual limitations may exist is proof of this. In all elements of ritual worship and of the pillars of Islam there are exceptions offered by God to ease any burden, whereas in the exercise of our responsibilities to our fellow men there are no such exceptions offered. This means that our constant lack of awareness and concern for others is a serious shortcoming and cannot be overcome with excuses.


As we read the Qur’an, we need to reflect on where and how we can use these same principles of accommodation and flexibility in our daily lives, in our interac- tions with fellow citizens, and in the ways we build our institutions, laws, and civic norms. One does not perform Hajj to claim the title “Hajji” (one who has completed the Hajj) and to make a showcase of it but to experience nearness to God and to see firsthand the work and lives of His best servants, namely those of Abraham and his family and of our Prophet and his companions. It is a unique experience to see and feel the presence of these role models in our lives, yet the contrary is more evident: Inaction rather than action, self-contentment over the activism to serve people, and the claim to fame rather than the exhibition of humility are only a few examples that come to mind when picturing a Hajji in contemporary Muslim societies.

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