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Philosophy of Some Hajj Rituals
Dr Rizwan Haider


Response:  The article ‘Living Hajj’ by Dr Rizwan Haidar appearing in the Feb 2000 issue of your journal was very inspiring. I would however like to point out that the logic for performing Sa‘ī that the writer has given is erroneous. Isn’t Sa‘ī performed in memory of the time when Hadrat Hājrah ran between the two hilltops of Safā and Marwah in search of water for her infant son Hadrat Ismā‘īl? And it was then that The holy spring of Zam Zam sprung under the heels of the young child. Secondly, the Jamarāt stand at the sites where Iblīs thrice tried to divert Hadrat Ibrāhīm (sws) during his journey to sacrifice Hadrat Ismā‘īl. However, the article mentions a different philosophy. I would appreciate it very much if you should clarify this point.

Comment: There can be more than one explanations of the philosophical background Sa‘ī. It is commonly inferred that it is in pursuance of the frantic effort made by Hājirah (rta) to find some water for her son Isma‘īl. Another one is that it symbolises the effort and struggle of Abraham (sws) as he searched for an appropriate place between the two hills to sacrifice his son. But a more logical explanation is that it was common in Arab culture to sacrifice animals in the name of their gods and they, as a gesture of submission, used to move the animal up and down, seven times, in front of the slaughter house before they actually carried out the sacrifice. Abraham (sws) had no ambiguity in his mind as to what his Lord expected of him. So he held little Isma‘īl’s hand and went up and down between Safā and Marvah, seven times, just to follow the ritual and make it absolutely clear to every one what he had in mind.  

However, one can always argue that an incident should be important enough to strengthen one’s religious beliefs if it is to be tagged as a permanent ritual. Now, if we analyse all three explanations in the light of this, we feel that the first one relating to Hājira (rta) is not something extraordinary; every mother will do that for her child and even more stunning examples come to light every other day. I being a medical professional see it happening more frequently, in the hospital, on the roadside or even at home. Mothers are made like that and they tend to forget every thing, in fact don’t hesitate to die in place of their siblings, if possible. And that by no means can be tagged to any particular religion. It is purely instinctive. So whether or not correct, when we analyse Hājira (rta) running around to find water for her son, it does portray her state of mind but then it was something that any mother would have done. To further clarify my point of view I would generalise it by saying that if one does something to please one’s Lord, it may be regarded as a religiously important gesture, as was Abraham’s to sacrifice his son. But if one does it only in response to a certain situation it does not merit a religious reward. Imagine two hungry people, for example: one fasting for Allah and other merely not having something to eat. I hope I could explain what I think of this version.

The second explanation of the philosophy of Sa‘ī (the version that you read in the journal) says this to be an effort of Abraham (sws) himself while he was looking for some place to sacrifice his son. I regard this a weaker explanation in presence of the last narration. I feel more inclined towards Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi’s analysis which relates it to the old Arab custom of animal sacrifice. Only if I pick up enough courage to visualise what would be going through the old man’s (Abraham’s) mind who was following the custom of sacrifice in the finest details to lay down his only son, who he had got after decades of prayers, I can see the reward awaiting him. He did all this to win his Master’s pleasure, on the faintest of indications and that is what makes it so important. However, this is not a ruling; it is only a personal inclination. There are so many who believe in the first, and equally more who accept the second explanation. This does not change the religion or the ritual by any extent.

As for the Jamarāt, again there are various views that explain their origin and I used the one quoted in ‘Tārikh-i-Makkah’ supported by many references from eminent scholars of our glorious past. Similarly, there are many, totally different, narratives about the construction of the Holy Ka‘bah itself and then how many times it was resurrected. But the main thing to learn from all this is that these narratives do not and should not have a bearing on the religious traditions that were passed on to us by our Holy Prophet (sws); we have them all and carry them out without hesitation. These narratives only are a glimpse of remote history available to those interested in the subject and like any other historical work, are prone to alterations.

I may be wrong and I seek His forgiveness if I misled you.

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