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Haj: A manifestation of human unity.

P. K. ABDUL GHAFOUR | Arab News StaffJEDDAH: The annual Haj pilgrimage to Makkah is one of the important pillars of Islam.

Haj plays a significant role in strengthening Muslim unity and solidarity as millions of Muslim faithful gather in Makkah and other holy sites wearing the same dress and reciting the same slogan -- Labbaik Allahuma Labbaik, Labbaik La Shareeka Laka Labbaik (O Allah, here I am answering your call and I bear witness that You have no partners).

Haj teaches the faithful lofty values, principles and objectives upon which Islam molds the qualities and character of an individual.

It is the climax of a Muslim individual's spiritual life and an embodiment of Islamic unity, which is based on a brotherhood in faith that towers above the narrow considerations of race, nationality, color or language.

Haj is a marvelous exercise for believers to strengthen their faith as they focus fully on activities that make Allah happy.

They rise above day-to-day preoccupations and casts off what men ordinarily cherish.

This also reflects in the deep symbolic meaning of the clothes they wear during ihram (the state of consecration).

It symbolizes his inner state, which makes him leave behind his family, home, wealth, position and everything dear to him.

Millions of Muslim faithful meet in Makkah and other holy sites to live a spiritual life on a special level, enacting a rite that exposes the exalted value of Islam and where equality, brotherhood and unity among the faithful is embodied, where response to the call of God comes before any other call: "And proclaim among men the pilgrimage: They shall come to you on foot and upon every lean beast; they shall come from every deep ravine." (Qur'an 22:27) The Haj pilgrimage is a unique gathering that gives the pilgrims an experience unavailable to them at home in their usual life. There is an exercise of strict self-discipline and control where sacred things are revered and the life of even plants and birds is made inviolable. "And he that venerates the sacred things of God, it shall be better for him with his Lord..." (Qur'an 22:30); "And he that venerates the Symbols of God, it surely is from devotion of the heart" (Qur'an 22:32); "And when We made the House (in Makkah) a resort for men and a sanctuary..." (Qur'an 2:125) Haj offers a rigorous training in self-control: "The pilgrimage is in the well-known months. He that undertakes the duty of the pilgrimage during them must abstain from coition, ungodliness and acrimonious dispute, and whatever good you do, Allah is aware of it. Take provision (from it) for yourselves, for the best provision is piety." (Qur'an 2:197) "Take provision" indicates that the effects of this experience should extend to the conduct of the Muslim in his normal life afterward, and that he should live and conduct himself by the values that manifest piety, "the best provision." Hassan Al-Ahdal, secretary-general of the International Media Organization, an affiliate of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, spoke about the significance of the annual pilgrimage being a great unifying force of Muslims.

"It is one of the important pillars of Islam. To perform this religious duty, Muslims from all over the world come to the holy places in Makkah. They engage in various acts of worship in an attempt to get close to the Almighty and win his pardon and blessings." The event also reflects the unity of humanity. Fuad Kawther, an engineer who has specialized in Islamic propagation, said Allah would boast about the Muslim faithful who assemble in Arafat during Haj.

"Allah will tell the angels that they have come from all over the world just to worship me and seek my forgiveness. Allah will then announce that He has forgiven their sins and give them what they want." According to Kawther all Prophets of Allah have performed Haj.

"This again shows the significance of Haj," he told Arab News. Haj is compulsory only once in the lifetime of a Muslim faithful who is physically and financially fit to perform it. Haj also highlights the equality of Muslims before Allah as every pilgrim, including kings and ordinary citizens, wear the same two pieces of garments and perform the same religious rituals.

Many Muslims prepare for Haj years before they arrive in the holy places of Saudi Arabia. An 80-year-old Indian pilgrim, who came for Haj this year, died a few days ago while performing tawaf (circumambulation) around the Holy Kba in Makkah. According to his friends, he had exerted a lot of efforts to reach Makkah with the intent of performing Haj. "When he arrived in Makkah it was a great moment of inexplicable joy for him," one said.

Malaysia's Tabung Haji has introduced an exemplary system that helps not only prospective pilgrims to mobilize funds required for Haj but also to perform the ritual in the best form.

"Our organization marks its golden jubilee this year," Syed Saleh Mufadhal, senior general manager for Haj at Tabung Haji told Arab News. The organization collects funds from members and invests them in viable investment projects such as real estate, industry, transport, stocks and tourism. Its total assets have reached 45 billion ringgits (about $14 billion).

Tabung Haji has joined hands with the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank to provide Haj consultancy services to interested countries and organizations.

"We launched this joint venture with IDB last year and have conducted a study on the management of Haj in some countries and their requirements," Mufadhal said, adding that many countries and organizations have shown their interest in making use of Tabung Haji's long-standing expertise in Haj affairs.

"We have a full-fledged computer system for Haj management. It covers all Haj matters from registration and selection of pilgrims, to their training, health care, hotel accommodation and transportation," he pointed out.

A number of foreign Haj missions wanted to meet Tabung Haji officials during this Haj season.

Tabung Haji (also known as Haj Fund) is a government agency under the prime minister's department. It is the only licensed authority to manage Haj affairs in Malaysia. There are about 8.5 million investors in Tabung Haji and it pays them an annual dividend of about six percent. Once people have enough money in the fund, they can go for Haj.

Speaking about Haj services, Mufadhal said: "We give prospective Hajis three levels of training. In the first level, pilgrims are taught the basics for 17 weeks and classes are conducted on weekends. The second level involves intensive courses with tests. In the third, Hajis are given practical training using models of the Holy Kba, Jamrat and other Haj sites." All prospective Hajis meet at the state level to get training on how to wear ihram (two pieces of white cloth for men and a lose garment of any color for women) and how to perform the various Haj rituals.

"We provide them with all the necessary services from the moment they embark on their pilgrimage journey until they return to Malaysia. They need not worry about anything. This helps our Hajis concentrate their full attention on worship and Haj rituals." The organization has published a number of Haj books including a checklist of what to do, a book for women pilgrims, and an e-book which could be downloaded onto smart phones.

"We have set up a call center in Makkah to answer queries of Hajis around the clock and clear their doubts," said Mufadhal.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:Oct 9, 2013
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