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  Thu 30 October 2014
6 Muharram 1436 AH   

Murad Hofmann

Murad Hofmann (born 1931) is a contemporary Muslim author who was formerly a member of the German diplomatic service. The account below is from his book ' Journey to Makkah' (Amana publications, 1998).

Together with bearing witness (shahadah), prayer, fasting and paying taxes (zakah), the pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and, as such, a must for every Muslim whose health and financial situation- after seeing to his family's and neighbors' needs- permits him to do so. The Qur'an plainly states:

… Pilgrimage thereto is a duty people owe to Allah - those who can afford the journey. (3:97)

No Muslim is allowed to go on a pilgrimage as long as a neighbor is in dire need! (In spite of this, in order to finance the journey many frames in their dotage decide to sell off the land that feeds their family.)

It is not tally a question of duty: the journey to Makkah is a dream come true for every Muslim, and upon returning becomes his prick and joy. When one comes back one may well find the entrance to him/her house painted green, and from this point on enjoy the ultimate prestige. There is no Ph.D., no Master's degree, no titles like "Your Excellency" or "Professor" (ustadh) that can possibly compete with the titillation every returning pilgrim is entitled to: Al-Hajj!"

Such a costly and potentially fatal enterprise requires painstaking spiritual and logistical preparations, even in the age of the jet plane, particularly since nowadays visas for pilgrims are subject to quotas. The fact that only 'one out of 1,000 eligible pilgrims is issued a visa sterns to have the not quite unintended consequence of limiting the number of pilgrims from Iran to no more than 40,000. At the same time, this quota system is undermined by the indeterminable number of pilgrims from among the foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. Nothing can prevent them from heading to Makkah with a piece of cardboard for a bed and a plastic bottle of water in had, and exploding the number of pilgrims to more than two million.

The Qur'an admonishes and encourages the prospective pilgrim:

And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best provision is right conduct. So fear Me, O people of
insight. (2:197)

I read historical descriptions of the hajj dating back to the 19th century, such as Richard Burton's two-volume "Personal Narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah" (1853) and Heinrich von Maltzahn's "Wallfahrt nach Mekka"
(Pilgrimage to Makkah, 1860). Another account is the 1814 travelogue by a Swiss Muslim from a prestigious family in Basel, Ludwig Burckhardt a.k.a. Shaykh Ibrahim ibn 'Abdallah. In addition to that, I took to studying useful modern how-to books, like, Every Man's Guide to Haji and Umrah and Mekka und Medina in Farbe (Makkah and al Madinah in Color) in the series Reisen heute (Travel Today).

The most important preparation toward the spiritual provision for the journey was the study of the respective verses that can be found in many different places In the Qur'an, particularly in surahs 2 and 22. In addition to that, it was necessary to keep aware of the Prophet's many different comments (hadith) relevant to the subject. A condensed rendition of both, Ahmed von Denffer's Wallfahrt nach Makkah- The essential information about 'Umrah and Hajj), Munchen 1986,
became my in indispensable reference tool in solving the main problem, i.e. how to integrate the external and the inner aspects of pilgrimage.

This is not an unusual exercise for Muslims, since their faith claims every aspect of their existence, body and soul. In Islam, the devotion to God cannot be reduced to cerebral ruminations and a personal set of moral convictions. Praying, fasting, sacrificing and the pilgrimage require a total, absolute commitment on the part of the Muslim that goes beyond heart and mind, demanding the entire person, from top to toe. It is that- or nothing at all: This is a consequence of the Islamic principle of ontological unity (tawhid0.

In my hotel room I Jeddah I was passing the time leading up to the crucial days by going through my notes. Among those were the following statements by Brother Ahmed:

So, why not put it as follows: ihram points to death? And tawaf aligns you with Allah? And sa'i is effort, search, and pains? And zamzam is life and fulfillment? And ' Arafat lets us anticipate the Day of resurrection? And Muzdalifah, darkness before the new dawn? And Mina, with the slaughter and the removal of ihram, a new life? And the stonings in Mina, the lifelong struggle against evil? But the center of life is Allah?


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