How did it begin? The Origin of Hajj is rooted in the Prophet Ibrahim’s (peace be upon him – pbuh) life, peace be on him. That story is instructive, and illustrative, too, of the true meaning and significance of Hajj. That story one must know to fully understand the benefits Hajj can bring.
LIFE AND MISSION OF PROPHET IBRAHIM (PBUH)
The kings were in collusion with the priests, the two sides working together to keep the people under servitude. They gave full backing to the priests, and the priests made people believe that the king of the day, as well as being the owner of his country and complete master of his subjects, was also a god among other gods. His word was absolute. Indeed, worship rites were performed for and before the king so that the belief in his godhood came to be entrenched in the minds of his subjects.
In times like this, the Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) was born into a family of privileged priests. His forefathers were high priests and it was quite natural that he should follow in their footsteps. He received the same education and training; the same gifts and offerings were awaiting him. Many adherents were eagerly waiting for the moment when they could bow their heads before him with folded hands. The ancestral seat of priestly power could be his for the taking.
In his dismal darkness, where not a single soul existed who knew or believed in the Truth, it would not ordinary have been possible for a man like Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) to find its light, nor break away from the little of comfort and power mapped out for him by his family.
These thoughts led the Prophet Ibrahim to the decision that he would never worship the deities, which his people worshiped, and he openly declared before them.
After leaving his home, the Prophet Ibrahim wandered in Egypt, Palestine and Arabia. God, alone, knows what sufferings he went through on his journeys. He had no money or possessions nor did he have time to earn his livelihood. His sole vocation, day and night, was to bring people to the worship of the One God. If a man of such ideas could not be tolerated by his own father and his own community, how was he going to be any more successful elsewhere? Where would he be welcomed? Everywhere the same temple priests and kings claiming godhood held sway; everywhere the same confused and ignorant common men lived, who were completely hoodwinked by them. How could, then, Ibrahim live peacefully in such an environment? For, not only was he himself not ready to accept the godhood of anybody except God, but he was also committed to proclaiming to the people that none except Allah was their Master and Lord and that, therefore, they should ignore the authority of their leaders and demi-gods and submit only to the One Being. Thus condemned to a nomadic existence, wandering through Palestine, Egypt and the vast deserts of Arabia, he passed his whole adult life.
During the last period of his life, when he was eighty-six and had despaired of offspring, Allah gave him a child, Ismail. But even then, this loyal servant of Allah did not think that, having himself wrecked his own home life, he should at least prepare his children to earn their living. No. His only concern was that the mission on which, he had spent his whole life should be carried on after his death. It was for this purpose that he had prayed to Allah to grant him children [l-Baqarah 2: 128]. And when Allah granted his request, his only thought was to educate and train them to continue his mission. The life of this perfect man was the life of a true and genuine Muslim. In early adulthood, when he had found God, God asked him: ‘aslim’, that is, enter Islam, surrender yourself totally to Me, be solely Mine. In reply, he gave the pledge: ‘aslamtu li-rabbi ’l-alamin’, that is, I have entered Islam, I belong to the Lord of the worlds, I have entrusted myself wholly to Him, I am ever ready to obey (al-Baqarah 2: 13). To this pledge Ibrahim (pbuh) remained true throughout this life. He gave up, for the sake of the Lord of the worlds, his ancestral religion together with its beliefs and rituals and renounced all the material benefits he could have derived from it. He braved the danger of fire, suffered homelessness, wandered from country to country, but spent every moment of his life in obedience to the Lord and in propagating His Deen.
And when his Lord tested Ibrahim With [His] commands, and he fulfilled them all, He said, Behold, I make you a leader of mankind. Said he [Ibrahim]: And my offspring [will they too be leaders]? He said: My covenant shall not reach the evil-doers (al-Baqarah 2: 124).
This perfect, purposeful, and well-arranged mutual helping is manifested by all of those things, especially inanimate objects. It is also an evident proof and clear argument that they are servants of an All-Wise Sustainer, workers of a Munificent Manager who work by His command and leave, and by His Power and Wisdom.
Have they not seen that We have made the sanctuary immune [from violence], while men are being carried away by force all around them (29: 67).
And when We made the House a place of visitation for mankind, and a sanctuary; take, then, the place whereon Ibrahim stood for place of prayer. And We commanded Ibrahim (pbuh) and Ismail (pbuh), ‘Purify My House for those who will walk around it, and those who will abide therein in worship, and those who will bow down and prostate themselves.’ And when Ibrahim (pbuh) prayed: My Lord! Make this a land secure and provide its people fruits, such of them as believe in God and the Last Day…
This is the story of the beginning of that Hajj which is the fifth pillar of Islam. You now understand that Makka was the headquarters for the mission of the first Prophet appointed to propagate the message of Islam. The Ka’aba was the focal point from where this preaching was spread across the world, and the worship rites of Hajj were introduced so that all those who chose to live in surrender to God alone should belong to one center where they could assemble every year, and go around it again and again. Their lives of faith were to be like the wheel tied to and revolving around its axle.
Excerpts taken from book “Let us be Muslims” by Syed Abul Ala Maududi