What is the purpose of Hajj?
Hajj means reaching for a high destination, being the mercy of Allah SWT. It involves travelling to a great elevation or a great place, where we journey to Mekkah (stopping by at Madinah is a highly recommended manner) for a wonderful pilgrimage and servitude to Allah.
Hajj is the final pillar of Islam, and is compulsory for those who have the physical and financial means. If one lacks the ability, health or finances, then the person is exempted from performing hajj for the time being. However, once the person has the means and the ability to do so, then the hajj is mandatory upon him and should not be delayed.
Islam is founded on five pillars of worship, and all the five have their own purposes, manners, virtues, values and rewards. The purpose of declaring the shahadah is to testify that no one is worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad SAW is His messenger. This declaration is the pre-requisite to embracing Islam.
The purpose of the five daily salat (prayers) is to cleanse our sins, establish our daily communication with Allah, distinguish us from the non-Muslims and to prevent us from doing bad deeds:
Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do not. (Al Ankabut, 29:45)
Fasting during Ramadan was prescribed to us as it was to the communities before us, to help us build taqwa or God consciousness. It is an annual reminder to suspend our attachments and occupations of dunia for the sake of Allah.
Zakat or alms is to spend a prescribed amount of our earnings and savings on the poor in order to cleanse and purify our hearts from stinginess and selfishness which are borne of our material greed, and to cultivate generosity amongst us.
To understand the purpose of hajj, we should revisit the Qur'an to seek what Allah requires of us.
The main purpose of hajj is to go towards Allah in servitude to Him, and to connect our hearts only to Him. This is an ancient rite, and through the Qur'an, Allah helps us appreciate the magnitude of this ritual, including where it is that we are visiting: the house of Allah on earth.
The requirement of hajj is mentioned in a few places in the Qur'an, including Surah Al Hajj. Surah Al Hajj was revealed in Madinah and is the only chapter in the Qur'an titled after a pillar of Islam. Verses revealed in Madinah usually explain rules, regulations and jurisprudence. Surah Al Hajj however, reminds us of the matters of the unseen: Allah, torture in the grave, and the horrific scenes on the Day of Judgment. Only three verses specifically talk about the hajj, while most of the other regulations about hajj are contained elsewhere in the Qur’an.
Surah Al Hajj begins with a warning of the utter bedlam that will happen on the Day of Judgment:
On the Day you see it every nursing mother will be distracted from that [child] she was nursing, and every pregnant woman will abort her pregnancy, and you will see the people [appearing] intoxicated while they are not intoxicated; but the punishment of Allah is severe. (Al Hajj 22:2)
Authentic Hadith has described that the Day of Judgment is equivalent to 50,000 earthly years, and during this time, the sun will hover roughly one handspan above our heads. When we think of how much the sun scorches parts of the earth when it is 93 million miles away, can we imagine the intensity of its heat when it is directly overhead?
The awareness of the Hereafter summarizes the purpose of hajj, and the advice of Allah in the Qur'an. The main purpose of hajj is to remind us of the Day of Judgment, and that our true and eternal life only begins after death.
After the introduction, Surah Al Hajj continues with multiple warnings about the tortures on the Day of Judgment. The chapter draws to a conclusion with:
O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good - that you may succeed. (Al Hajj 22:77)
The call for success echoes the call for prayer where we are asked to go to salat and to go towards success. The chapter concludes with a reminder for us to continue with our struggle for the path of Allah:
And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. It is the religion of your father, Ibraham. Allah named you "Muslims" before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So establish prayer and give zakah and hold fast to Allah. He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper. (Al Hajj 22:78)
In the above passage, Allah emphasises He has chosen us. The religion is not a burden, but an honour from Allah. It is not impossible to fulfil its obligations, on the contrary, it is a religion in which Allah has not given us undue difficulty. He also tells us what we need to do in order to gain His protection and help.
Once we embark on the journey of hajj, we will start on our journey to the Day of Judgment in earnest. This is why the entire ritual is entrenched in symbolisms of death, obedience and personal triumph.
For example, the clothes of ihram for men (clothes to be worn during hajj and umrah rituals) consist two pieces of unstitched white cloth made of either cotton or wool. These simple clothes are similar to the Muslim death shroud and puts us in a state of humility and remembrance that none of our worldly possessions or accolades can accompany us to the grave.
Hajj is to remember the Day of Judgment, when we are resurrected, where are we going to stand in front of Allah and be questioned. Allah is giving us a chance now to remember where we are going and to wipe our slate clean, and be as sinless as the day we were born.