Has the West somehow derived the spirit of Hajj?

This year, once again, people from all over the world convene to discuss and appreciate ideas to unite the humanity and to make our futures sustainable. Here, as we all aim to address something so essential and common to all humanity, nationality, race, color, and political affiliation dissolve, and all humans unite. Welcome to Milan World Expo; “Feeding the planet, energy for life.”

It’s very common among new Quranists to rethink traditional Islamic rites, such as Hajj. Many of us consider Hajj as an international convention, not rituals. It’s also popular among Sunni Muslims to claim that the Hajj signifies the unity of humanity; no matter the nationality and race, everyone dresses the same way and does the same thing. However, the Hajj is also often reduced to nothing but rituals, and once the rituals lose meanings, they fail to serve the purpose of Hajj. Here, I shall demonstrate the purpose of Hajj once again, but I’ll not talk about rituals since in the Quran, things about Hajj are almost all about the spirit of unity and peace, not rituals. Please open your Quran while reading this article and read the verses surrounding the verses I’ve cited, not to take a verse out of context. Please look up the verses I cited on your own, since I often cite many verses at once.

Though Moses is the person most frequently mentioned in the Quran, I consider Abraham the most important personality in the Quranic worldview, who represents Unity of God and unity of mankind. Here are the stories of Abraham: building the sanctuary, demonstrating resurrection, his wife bearing Isaac at an old age, rejecting sun, moon, and stars and only accepting God as the Lord, smashing his father’s idols, and attempting to sacrifice Ishmael[1]. Monotheism is said to be the creed of Abraham, and proliferation of the progeny of Abraham is contrasted to God’s disgrace to sinful people such as the people of Lot and the people of Abraham who serve idols that Abraham smashed. Also, monotheism as the creed of Abraham is frequently mentioned in the context of sectarianism and lies about God that cause sectarianism (2:135, 3:95, 6:161, 16:123). Thus, Abraham signifies unity, as his creed monotheism is what’s contrary to sectarianism, and this idea is further confirmed by 16:120; only Abraham is said to be a nation, and he did build a nation that has passed away (2:124-143).

Note that I cited 2:124-143, while the story of Abraham itself ended at 2:134. I did so, because the passage following 2:124-134 flows very smoothly from 2:134 and it’s this context that gives the nation of Abraham (with the sanctuary) the symbolism of unity of mankind (in its freedom from sectarianism) (also see 10:47, 16:36, 22:34, that a messenger has been sent to every nation, so the idea of “not making a distinction between messengers” in 2:136 and 2:285 also implies unity of mankind). If the sanctuary represents unity, then “setting yourself towards the Restricted Temple” will naturally imply setting yourself towards what the Temple represents. If the meaning of the Temple is not taken into account, the passage regarding the Qibla will not fit into its context, which is about unity and saying lies about God. This implication is more apparent in Dr. Shabbir’s translation. It’s inappropriate to consider the sanctuary as the house of God, because God is Omnipresent.

The symbolism of unity is still important in 2:196-203, which is the passage about Hajj, since this passage, along with the section about fasting preceding it, are surrounded by a context regarding justice (2:177-182, 188, 204-207) and achievement of peace defense against aggressors (2:190-195), and this ideology implied by the contexts is stated directly in 2:208-213. Again, if considered to be nothing but rituals, 2:196-203 will not fit into the context. I said the passage about Hajj doesn’t fit into its context about justice instead of the passage about justice doesn’t fit into the context of Hajj, first because the passage of Hajj is in between passages about justice, and second, because we’re sure about what the passage about justice means, while many Quranists are not sure about what Hajj should be like. Considering this symbolism, the conference called Hajj should serve a goal to foster international dialogue and peace among nations besides making people better monotheists. So Sunnis got it right, that Hajj signifies unity. However, it’s not unity in uniformity, because there aren’t such rituals or dress codes that make people uniform in the Quran, and there’re many ways towards God (see 2:62, 2:177, 5:69, 13:17, 22:67). Questions still remain: Is Beca indeed Mecca? It’s also argued that the sanctuary is in Jerusalem, not Mecca (see http://www.free-minds.org/pilgrimage-lost-legacy-abraham). Or perhaps we can choose wherever we agree upon as long as the ideal of Abraham is fulfilled, because at least at present, neither Mecca nor Jerusalem can best represent this ideal?

So what about the Expo? It’s been five years, and I still vividly remember the dream-like feeling in the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The architectures were designed to be so dream-like, and the pavilions were sitting peacefully next to each other, elaborating on the same topic “Better city, better life,” and there was no war. The pavilion of Israel was sitting peacefully in the midst of many Arab pavilions. No wars. More nations than ever, especially developing countries, took part in the Shanghai Expo since this was the first time an Expo was held in a developing country. Wars were forgotten, only “better city, better life.” It would be great if the real world is like that. Meanwhile there was the South Africa World Cup and Guangzhou Asia Game, still in the wake of Beijing Olympics and midway to London Olympics, other events that could allow nations to stand side by side in peace without wars. I don’t want to be an athlete, since I find pursuit of science much more meaningful than athletics, but I appreciate the spirit of unity in the Olympics. The Expos are not addressing religious topics (except the Holy See pavilion in the Milan Expo), yet sustainability, and especially the topic of the Milan Expo about food and solving the problem of hunger, is central to Islam. Perhaps the Expos in the 21st century[2] serve a partial purpose of the Hajj the convention.

Or do they? Ironically, compared to the Shanghai Expo, many fewer developing countries take part in the Milan Expo which addresses food and hunger. Are they too hungry to take part? Does the dream world of Expo betray some cruel facts about the real world? Also, while I’m not sure about what happened to build the Shanghai Expo site, artist Ai Weiwei boycotted the Beijing Olympics because he considers it a propaganda tool of the Communist Party; innocent people were forced out of their homes so their land could be used to build the new stadiums, and the poorest people were driven out of Beijing because they didn’t “qualify” as “visitors,” so the richer “qualified visitors” could give foreigners fake smiles (see Ai Weiwei’s movie Never Sorry). If this happens, then those conventions do not serve any purpose of Hajj, since they’re build on injustice, which we should fight against.

Inside the Mecca pavilion in Shanghai Expo, featuring facilities organizing the pilgrims in Mecca

Inside the Mecca pavilion in Shanghai Expo, featuring facilities organizing the pilgrims in Mecca

[1] Not Isaac, because it’s said in 37:112 that Isaac comes after the child almost sacrificed.

[2] Expos served different purposes before 1970. See http://www.bie-paris.org/site/en/expos/past-expos/past-expos-a-short-history-of-expos


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