Hajj: The Zalimun and Throwing of Pebbles

The Hajj is one of the central obligations for Muslim adults, both male and female, and is to be performed as soon as one’s financial means and health permit it. According to the Qur’an, it was Ibrahim (Abraham) who, together with his first-born son Isma’il, built the Ka’bah which is the focal point toward which Muslims the world over turn to pray five times each day.

The ancient rites of Hajj are pregnant with religious, social, and political meanings that are as relevant to our world to-day as they were when Prophet Ibrahim began his contemplation of "signs in the heavens and the earth" that led him to the conclusion of the existence of a single creator, "Allah." He understood that nature is not under the control of capricious and conflicting multiple gods, but that it follows the grand design of a single master-creator whom the French call Dieu; the Italians Dio; the Jews Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, or just El; and the Muslims, Allah. It would hardly occur to anyone that the French and Italians could be worshipping different gods, or that Jews pray to several separate creators. But when it comes to Allah the criticism from outside the faith is fair game.

Listen to the fiery sermons of some Christian and Zionist evangelists, or read the co-opted media which publish an enormous amount of material authored by pro-Israeli Islamophobes; and tune in to radio and TV talk show personalities, who interview members of the American political establishment (including even "expert" military generals) who basically claim that Muslims venerate a god known as Allah, who has no relationship to Judeo-Christian Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham.

Even in 2005, they are still unable to grasp the fact that the word "Allah" is no more than simply the Arabic word for God, and that for Muslims it denotes the name of the only God in existence, the Creator of all things, transcendent and beyond multiplicity. The singularity of God (called Tawhid) is the very fibre of Islam, from which all other Islamic thoughts, rituals, and practices are derived.

Through the rituals of Hajj, Muslims commemorate the personal struggle and sufferings of the Prophet Ibrahim, whose discovery of Allah led him to the realization that being a believer requires more than passive acceptance of Allah’s existence. A believer must also assume the roles of social reformer, peace maker, and protector of all — including the natural environment — since Allah has assigned him/her a position of responsibility not only as an individual, but also for the benefit of others who are unable to fight against Satan. (Satan is also known as Iblis, or the Zalimun, meaning wrong and evil doers.)

Ibrahim understood that prayer and pious instruction were not enough by themselves to accomplish Allah’s plan for a complete social transformation of the political, legal, and religious totalitarianism (based on belief in false gods) of his time; and so he was led not only to destroy the pagan deities, but also to struggle (the true origin of Jihad) against unjust and cruel rulers and priests. His rejection of the false gods and his actions, both verbal and physical, against powerful priests and their deities cost him his home, his parents, his relatives and his friends. He was thrown into fire to be burned alive, but Allah protected him; later, he was exiled by the country’s powerful and corrupt elite rulers. The Qur’an tells us that "Ibrahim was indeed a paragon of virtue, obedient to Allah, ever inclined to Him…. He was ever grateful for His favours; We chose him and guided him to a straight path. He will surely be among the righteous." (Qur’an 16: 121-123)

Hajj, if understood only as a collection of rituals for the purpose of having one’s personal "sins" washed away, is not enough to fulfill the obligations of being a vicegerent of Allah, which must include an equally fervent commitment to challenging the authority of those who create injustice in this world. The Qur’an teaches: "Call to mind also; when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain commands which he fulfilled, and his Lord said: I shall make thee a leader (Imam) of people. Ibrahim asked: And from my offspring also? To which his Lord replied: Indeed, but My covenant will not embrace the Zâlimûn (or evil doers)." (Qur’an 2: 24)

Thus, one of the meaningful symbolic rites of Hajj is to throw pebbles at three pillars representing Iblis (Satan). Prophet Ibrahim dreamt that he was sacrificing his first-born son, Isma’il (Ishmael). He consulted his young son, who expressed no objection or fear and was willing to be sacrificed just as Allah had willed, saying: "O my father! Do what you have been commanded to do; then you will find me one of the patient ones." (Qur’an 37: 10, 11). This was a hard and very brave decision for a young man to take; it was a moment of great faith in Allah.

Then Iblis-Satan tried, not once, but three times, to sway Ibrahim from the path of Allah. But instead of taking the easy way out, Prophet Ibrahim chose to search for the truth, even though he knew it would often be challenging, dangerous and unpleasant. He realized he was being tested by Allah through the symbolic sacrifice of his son, as the Qur’an says: "O Ibrahim! you have indeed shown the truth of the vision. Surely do We reward the doers of good." (Qur’an 37:105). So even today during Hajj, pilgrims throw stones at three pillars to symbolize Ibrahim’s, and their own, repudiation of evil. This event in history gave birth to Eid-ul Adha — or the Festival of Sacrifice.

These are extremely testing and dangerous times for Muslims all over the world, as they continue their universal struggle (or Jihad) under corrupt rulers and religious leaders who not only keep them ignorant, poor, and misinformed, but are also too often partners with the invaders and occupiers of their lands, peoples and resources. In recent memory, Muslim blood has been shed in so many parts of the world, I believe there is hardly a family left that has not directly or indirectly experienced some form of trauma, injury, or loss of life due to the injustice of human-made disasters.

Muslim children have been the main victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Serbian ethnic cleansings, and Russian occupations. One thing can be said for the historical tyrants, Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu: when they came to destroy and occupy, they never sang lies about peace on earth, or pretended to bring democracy and freedom, or to "save" Muslim souls.

Today’s battles are different, for today’s evildoers have seduced the world through propaganda, lies, deceit, and brute force, into believing that they alone represent all that is good. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are much dangerous than obvious foes, because so much of their work can be done quietly, unnoticed and unchecked.

What is needed now is a long term strategy, the clarity to see through the pleasing mask of deception, and more importantly, the understanding to know that this is not the real face of the Zalimun. We must focus on what is real behind the mask, rather than what they wish us to see, if we are to benefit from the spiritual, psychological and social factors involved in the story of Prophet Ibrahim. His total faith in Allah can be an inspiration, guidance, and the foundation for hope that things can get better if we, the people, stand up in resistance against lying and cheating tyrants and rulers. We too are being called to place our utmost trust in Allah, who faithfully rewards good deeds.