IDD AL-ADHA SERMON
Oxford, 10 January 2006
PEACE AND BLESSINGS OF ALMIGHTY GOD BE UPON YOU
I SEEK REFUGE IN GOD FROM ALL PERVERSITY & UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE GRACIOUS, THE MOST MERCIFUL
ALL PRAISE IS DUE TO THE CREATOR, THE LORD OF THE WORLDS
I BEAR TESTIMONY THAT THERE IS NO DEITY EXCEPT GOD AND THAT MUHAMMAD IS HIS SERVENT AND MESSENGER
PEACE & SALUTATION TO MUHAMMAD, HIS KINSFOLK & COMPANIONS
Brothers and Sisters, we have gathered here today with joy and happiness to celebrate the day of IDD AL ADHA, which as you know occurs on the tenth day of Dhil Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Today’s worldwide celebrations not only mark the end of this year’s annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah but also commemorate Prophet Abraham’s inspirational willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
In many parts of the world, today is often referred to by different names. In Turkey, it is called “Kurban Bayramı” or ‘Sacrifice Feast’. In Singapore and Malaysia it is known as Hari Raya or Hajji Qurban, while in Indonesia it is called Hari Raya Idul Adha. In many parts of West Africa, today is known as Tabaski while in the Indian sub-continent it is commonly called Bakri-Idd. Regardless of these various names, Muslims the world over will celebrate IDD AL-ADHA as a day of unity, inspiration and gratitude.
This year, some three million Muslims had the honour and privilege to gather in the greatest assembly of humanity to perform the hajj. We rejoice with them in fulfilling this primary pillar of Islam, which requires that every fit and financial able Muslim undertake this journey to Makkah once in their lifetime. Multitudes of people from around the world have converged upon that Blessed City to re-dedicate themselves to the worship of the one true Divine Being. The same God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon all these prophets and messengers of God.
The millions of people who are present in Makkah today not only celebrate God’s glorious power, His wondrous majesty, His infinite compassion and His boundless mercy, but they also re-affirm a cardinal concept of Islam. They re-emphasize the clarion call of this faith, which says that there is ONE GOD, ONE HUMANITY. It is this motivational message that is at the heart and soul of the hajj, at the real core and substance of the pilgrimage to Makkah al-Mukkaramah, the Sacred Mosque.
The pilgrimage to the Blessed City did not start with Islam nor did the Prophet Muhammad initiate it. It dates back to antiquity and the distant past. From the Qur’an itself, we learn that Makkah was a centre of pilgrimage for at least a few thousand years before the advent of Islam.
This is affirmed in the Holy Scripture. We read in Surah al-Ma’idah 3:95
CERTAINLY THE FIRST HOUSE (OF WORSHIP) APPOINTED FOR HUMANITY WAS THAT AT MAKKAH, A BLESSED PLACE AND A GUIDANCE TO ALL THE WORLDS
In this verse, the Holy Qur’an is explicit that the House of Worship in Makkah was built by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, and was the first edifice to pure monotheism. In other words, it is the real birthplace for the worship of the one and only true God, of celebrating strict Divine Unity and absolute monotheism (tauhid).
This historical fact is confirmed in the Qur’an in Surah al-Baqqarah 2:127:
AND WHEN ABRAHAM AND ISHMAEL RAISED THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE HOUSE, THEY PRAYED: O LORD ACCEPT THIS FROM US, SURELY YOU ARE THE ALL-HEARING, THE ALL-KNOWING
From that moment onwards, the ancient and widely practiced institution of pre-Islamic pilgrimage was remodeled, re-fashioned and reshaped to reflect its true origins as the very first centre of uncompromising monotheism.
Here we see clearly in the Holy Qur’an that the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael were instrumental in restoring and building theKa’abah, the black draped cubicle structure at the heart of the hajj.
Many of the rituals of the hajj are accordingly associated with the events in the life of the Prophet Abraham, his son Ishmael and his wife Hagar. Not only does the Holy Qur’an refer to these events, but both the Jewish Talmud (Genesis 22) and the Christian New Testament (Hebrews 11:17-19) also attest to the essential truth of these events. Any examination of the lives of Prophet Abraham, his son and wife reveal that they all were devoted and dedicated to the worship of the one true God. Each of them in their own way exhibited total selflessness and an inspirational resolve. They were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, whether it was Abraham willing to kill his own son, whether it was Ishmael prepared to give up his own life, and whether it was Hagar’s acceptance of the Divine Will in not finding water for her thirsty child.
In this connection, we read in the Holy Qur’an Surah al-Saffat 37:102
AND WHEN ABRAHAM’S SON BECAME OF AGE TO WORK WITH HIM, HE SAID: O MY SON, I HAVE SEEN IN A DREAM THAT I SHOULD OFFER YOU IN SACRIFICE. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT? HE REPLIED: O MY FATHER DO AS YOU ARE COMMANDED. YOU WILL FIND ME, IF GOD PLEASES, STEADFAST IN FAITH.
Here we have the exalted significance, the real meaning of the hajj, that of selfless sacrifice and noble perseverance in fulfilling the commandments of God. The entire episode of the sacrifice is regarded as a trial and a test that Abraham had to face from God. That is the lesson that pilgrims must absorb and implement upon the resumption of their normal lives. All this must be combined with an intensified faith in the pristine Islamic notion of ONE GOD, ONE HUMANITY.
Today, the sacred sanctuary in Makkah includes the Ka’abah, the maqam Ibrahim (the place of Abraham) and the legendary Zam Zam well. This whole complex forms the epicentre of the pilgrimage. When the pilgrims don the ihram, the two white sheets that cover them, they enter into a state of religious purity and heightened spiritual consciousness. Not only are they focused on the motive and mission of the pilgrimage – that of worshiping the one true God – but they are also are inspired by the fact that everyone wears just two simple sheets of white cloth, which symbolizes and re-emphasizes the universal and egalitarian nature of Islam.
By entering into a state of purity, of ihram, the pilgrims reinforce the transcendent truth of Islam; they reiterate the crystal clear concepts of Islam. The pilgrims concretize the inspirational slogan of Islam: ONE GOD, ONE HUMANITY. In other words, there is the joint and dual emphasis on the vertical as well as the horizontal planes of existence, that of combining heavenly and earthly matters, of bringing together the spiritual with secular life.
The deliberate removal of all worldly criteria of social distinction and personal status is the most striking feature of the hajj. Here, where three million people have gathered for a common purpose over the past few days, all trace of race, colour, rank and gender become meaningless not only in the sight of God, but also in the eyes of humanity. Nowhere else in the world is this bold, emphatic insistence on the innate equality and fundamental parity between all human beings stressed more acutely than at the hajj.
In this, more than anything else, we have the sublime philosophy of Islam, the real message of the hajj. Not only should the preponderant focus be on the forgiveness of individual sin, but on the transforming message of total equality between all people, black or white, rich or poor, men or women. The prince is ranked alongside the pauper, the disabled is equal to the able-bodied, the man is on par with the woman, and the marginalized are the same as the mainstream. This is the most beautiful and uplifting message of the hajj. And this is the lasting impression which should influence pilgrims and impact upon their future conduct when they return home.
Such is the power and potency of the hajj and the predominant message of human parity and social equality that it has made life-changing modifications to the beliefs, thinking and prejudices of many millions of its participants. One of the most striking cases in recent times is the effect that the hajj had upon Malcolm X, the famous African-American leader who led the fight for Civil Rights in America during the 1960’s. He was born Malcolm Little in Boston in 1928, and led a life of petty crime. He was jailed and became a member of an extremist Black Nationalist organisation, called the Nation of Islam (which had no affiliation to orthodox Islam) that taught that all white people were devils and dogs, the incarnation of Satan and the manifestation of everything that is evil and bad.
Malcolm X harboured these racist prejudices until he made the hajj in 1964. This was to be the most transforming experience in his life, because for the first time, white, blonde, blue-eyed European Muslims embraced him with open arms and offered him full equality and acceptance of a fellow human being. This revolutionized his bigoted thinking regarding white people. In fact, the hajj became the defining watershed in Malcolm’s life, as his autobiography makes clear. After the hajj, he left the racist Nation of Islam, became an orthodox and dedicated Muslim and preached the true values of Islam and its revolutionary doctrine of complete human equality and social parity amongst all people.
So apart from undertaking a firm oath to God to live pious lives upon their return from the hajj, the message of the hajj, that of resisting and overturning prejudices, biases and discrimination based on social class and personal status must the primary lesson that pilgrims learn on the pilgrimage to Makkah. Anything else would be a complete betrayal, a total travesty of the uplifting and inspirational principles of the hajj.
The intentional negation of human differences and personal distinctions is the most astounding hallmark of the hajj. Not only are all men equal, but women very significantly, are on par with their male counterparts. They too wear two white sheets, and they also mix and mingle with all pilgrims as they perform all the rituals of the hajj.
From making the tawaf (the mass circumambulation around the Ka’abah), women also march and assembly at Mina and Muzdallifah, and are fully involved in the running between Safa and Marwah (commemorating Hagar’s frantic search to quench her infant’s thirst) and also gather at the Plain of Arafat, the highlight of the Hajj. But more to the point and especially given the new unfounded passion for the niqab (the imported non-Islamic custom involving the total covering of female faces), women are expressly prohibited from wearing this restrictive face veil during the hajj. All that is required from female pilgrims is for them to cover their hair, not their faces. So, Muslims should do well to remember that if women are obliged to participate fully and without face covering at Islam’s holiest place, then they could certainly do the same at any other mosque in the world.
When the pilgrims, men and women, make the circumambulation (tawaf) of the Ka’abah, they announce to the Sovereign Creator that they have heeded His Directive to perform the hajj. They say in unison and individually:
GOD, HERE I AM O LORD, HERE WE ARE IN YOUR DIVINE PRESENCE, THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDE YOU OR ASSOCIATE WITH YOU.
By this verbal declaration, the pilgrims confirm that they will fulfill the rules and requirements of Islam more diligently, that they will practice the religion more consistently and that they will continuously adhere to the spiritual and secular functions of their faith. In other words, the pilgrims are galvanized into becoming better believers. They are inspired by the mass march to Mina, the assembly at Arafat and Muzdallifah (which is seen as an earthly prelude to the Day of Judgement and Resurrection) and the symbolic renunciation of all individual temptation and worldly evil through the rami al-jimar (the casting of the stones).
In effect, all pilgrims are required, as a lead up to the Hereafter, that they will refrain from all acts of evil, argument, fighting, lewd behaviour and unrighteousness not only while on hajj but also when they resume their normal lives. In this context, it is in practice, the precursor, the model for the kind of virtuous conduct and righteous behaviour that pilgrims should lead when they return home. By making the pilgrimage, they promise that henceforth they will lead reformed lives afterwards. Indeed, in a sense, the hajj should be seen as a kind of rebirth, of being reborn to become more conscience of the Creator and to develop an intensified spirituality as well as an increased involvement in altruistic humanity. In this way, Muslims can then focus the rest of their lives on the true meaning of life, the real reason why we are all here.
The hajj cannot and must not be seen as an expedient antidote for having lived a life of unrighteousness and wrongdoing. Islam does not condone the idea that all one’s sins can be easily forgiven by simply making a pilgrimage to Makkah. It is therefore not a convenient instrument for moral transgressions to be pardoned without sincere contrition and radical adjustments in the lives of the supplicating pilgrims. In other words, you cannot return to your erroneous and sinful ways thinking that the hajj has wiped your slate clean when you continue to lead an immoral life. Properly understood, the hajj is a spiritual vehicle, a means to remember the ultimate destination of all humanity, that everyone will one day be held accountable for their deeds and actions and that we must prepare accordingly for the day we return to God.
The hajj it must be stressed is not a short cut to heaven if those who have performed the pilgrimage continue to deliberately and consciously flout the tenets of the religion and persist in leading a life of sin and evil. Nor is it an opportunistic means to wipe the slate clean when pilgrims go back to their previous lifestyle. In fact, by deliberately reverting to licentiousness, greed, arrogance, evil and sin, the pilgrim has negated not only letter of the hajj but also the spirit of the pilgrimage. The hajj, like the great pillars of Islam must be regarded as a mechanism, a conduit for the pilgrim to make the voyage from just being an ordinary Muslim to becoming truly spiritual. In other words, to embark on the journey whereby we progress from being mere Muslims to becoming real believers, and then attaining righteous piety – the highest level of spiritual evolution.
The hajj has to mean a complete and total inner transformation if it is to have any personal validity and spiritual relevance. What is the purpose of going on the pilgrimage and you continue to pursue an unrighteousness life? It is pointless and an affront to the Creator. Since the pilgrims have all invoked a solemn oath to their Lord that they will henceforth lead virtuous lives and give altruistic assistance to their fellow human beings in need, this is a sacred undertaking that they must take to their grave.
Muslims who can afford to do so sacrifice domestic animals, usually sheep, as a symbol of Abraham’s sacrifice; this sacrifice is calledQurbani. The meat has to be distributed amongst neighbours, relatives, the poor and hungry. The charitable instincts of the Muslim community are re-affirmed particularly during IDD AL-ADHA by this concerted effort to see that no impoverished person and co-religionist is left behind without sustenance during this day. Coming immediately after the rituals at the Plain of Arafat (when the Prophet Muhammad pronounced the final seal on the religion of Islam), IDD AL-ADHA gives concrete realization to what the Muslim community ethic means in practice and in reality.
So while we here, in the congregation today, are unable to perform the hajj this year, let us remember those who are already there and pray that they have absorbed the true meaning and lessons of the pilgrimage. Let us think of those who will return from this pivotal event in their lives as changed characters, those who will really learnt the lessons of the hajj. We pray that they will not be returning to resume their usual lifestyles but will imbibe and incorporate the real benefits of the hajj, and not by wallowing in the social prestige accorded to them now that they are hajjis, (those who have completed the pilgrimage). They need to be aware of the spiritual path that can elevate them to they becoming genuine believers and truly righteous.
The Hajj is therefore the ultimate expression of reconciling the vertical with the horizontal aspects of life, of combining the eternal with the earthly planes, of uniting the material and the mystical, of joining the theological with the temporal. If the returning pilgrims do this, then the real purpose and true mission of the hajj would be realized.