Monday, 27 June 2011

Islamic Articles: 'TIS THE SEASON



Once again, the magnificient, truly mind-boggling and utterly beautiful, ancient season of haj is upon us. Mind-boggling in that so many Muslims literally from all corners and cracks of the world gather together in this one spot at one time, for the sole purpose of worshipping their Creator. And beautiful in that this once-a-year procession demonstrates so vividly the possibility of unity and harmony of mankind.

To the modern-day Muslims, the haj is basically an exercise in worship by imitating the traditional rituals that our father Ibrahim, A.S.(Abraham) himself performed.

But to mankind in general, and the history of mankind, as well as creation as a whole, it has a more vast and far-reaching meaning.

The haj itself entails the necessity of the individual to embark on this venture, leaving behind all his/her worldly affairs for the time, in order to present himself/herself at the required spots on the required times.

The pilgrim needs to travel to Makkah, perform the circumambulation round the kaaba; walk/run between the hillocks Safa and Marwa; stand (i.e. be present) at the plains region of Arafat on the Day of Arafat; camp out that night at Mizdelifa; campt for 2-3 nights at Mina; and then perform once again the circumambulation round the kaaba. As well as offering the sacrificial animal, for those who it is incumbent upon, and throwing the pebbles at the assigned stations on the assigned days.

Of these deeds and rituals, the most important aspect is the presence of the hopeful hajji at the Arafat plains region on the Day of Arafat. As has been recorded in various ahadith, the prophet(SAAW) mentioned: the haj IS Arafat. Thereby indicating the jurisdiction that for those not present within the boundaries of the Arafat plains sometime before sunset on the Day of Arafat, then they have not attained the performance of the haj. Even thought they may attend to all other rituals of the haj. Without the presence at Arafat at the right time, there is no haj.

And although many people prefer to term this presence at Arafat as 'standing at Arafat', it is quite acceptable that the people may sit (whether on chairs, the ground, or even their vehicles), or even lay down for a time.

And it is also fine and acceptable that those present at Arafat take a meal, and drink to their satisfaction during their stay. In fact, as according to the prophet's saying, those present at Arafat on the Day of Arafat, are not to fast. It is a sufficient form of worship that they are present at Arafat for that holy, important, day.

Allah (SWT) has told us, in His Book, that He has created us for nothing other than worshipping Him. And although there are many pleasing aspects of this life within the realm of the permissible and legal status, we should not let those worldly pleasures distract us from what He has created us for, and that is to worship Him.

The observance of the haj, or the participation in the haj, is one of the five pillars of Islam. And although it is required of a Muslim only once in his/her life (as per the individual's ability to meet the requirements/qualifications for it), it is considered highly as the culmination or high peek of status of worship. This is basically due to the sacrificial nature of and surrounding the haj and it's season. Even for those Muslims not attending the haj, there is still the high value of sacrifice surrounding this season.

One of the important traditional practices associated with the haj is the offering of the sacrificial animal. Before proceeding, we should remember that Allah(SWT) has told us that it is not the blood of the sacrifice, nor the meat, which reaches Him. Nor is He in need of that blood or meat. But it is the piety of the worshipper offering the sacrifice in His name, which is the benefit and goal of the whole act.

The tradition of offering the sacrificial animal began with Ibrahim, A.S. He received a vision, which he correctly understood to be a divine directive, to sacrifice his own beloved son.

To better understand the value and importance of this act, we should think in more detail of the particulars in relation to the situation.

Up until this time, his wife was barren. In other words, he had no children as of yet. He and his wife both were getting on in years, so naturally, the natural hope of them having children dwindled as their ages rose.

Along their travels through the earth, Ibrahim and his wife Sarah passed through Egypt for a time. And upon their exit from Egypt, the king of Egypt presented Sarah with a slave girl as a gift for her. Sarah in turn offered this very same slave girl to her beloved husband. Ibrahim did not reject, and so he co-habited with Hagar (the slave girl) as well as with his wife Sarah.

When it became known that Hagar was pregnant, Sarah could no longer contain her jealousy. It was one thing for her to know of and even witness her beloved husband with another woman. But to realize that this other woman should be blessed with child while she remained barren, this was too much for her to bear.

And so, at Sarah's insistence, Ibrahim, A.S., took Hagar and her infant son, Ismael, to the desert valley region which we know as Makkah today. But at that time, it was not only desert, it was virtually deserted as well, excepting for the tribes of the surrounding region and the traders who occasionally crossed the paths of this region in their travels from Yemen in the south to Syria in the north and back.

As Ibrahim turned to leave his fostering family behind, Hagar naturally made a pleading move in questioning objection to this turn of fate. And when Ibrahim made no reply, but rather silently and determinedly moved along his way, she realized that this was of divine decree. So, she, in turn, became resolved in peace to the fate encrued upon herself and her beloved infant son. It was shortly after this, that her desperate search for water became the source of the traditional practice of the 'saiee' (running/walking) between the two hillocks of Safa and Marwa. And the greatest blessing out of this one event itself is the still-vibrant and productive well of the zam-zam water. For it sprout out of the ground as the crying baby Ismael pounded his heels to the ground during his crying.

As Ibrahim left his family behind, he supplicated Allah the Almighty to protect and provide for his family, which He evidently did. Ibrahim returned to visit them years later, when the lad was approaching adolescence. He had received a vision that he was to offer in sacrifice, his precious first-born, who was until now his only son. Making him even more so precious. Yet even if a person has many children, all are precious in their own right.

He informed his beloved son, who was still essentially a child even by standards of that time, of the vision which he understood and took seriously as divine decree, thereby necessitating it's obedience. Yet this foresighted and truly amazingly patient child, rather than crying out of fright, simply replied with the greatest of trust to his father: 'O father! Do as you deem the right thing. And you will find me in patient obedience.'

Such an honorable way to respond for this child, who was destined to be a prophet as well, not only the son of a prophet!!

So, Ibrahim took his son out a ways from the people, and proceeded in his preparations to sacrifice his first-born, as yet his only-born. He even made measure to instruct his son to face downwards so that he need not look into his son's face as he did the act.

As his truly razor-sharp knife was lowering on Ismael's throat, a beautiful ram appeared from utterly no where. And Ibrahim was immediately divinely informed that this ram was sent to him by divine order as the replacement for his son. Such a great and blessed replacement indeed!!

Hence, Ibrahim proceeded almost immediately, out of joy, relief, and thanks for Allah's blessing and mercy, to sacrifice this beautiful animal. And in doing so, Ibrahim was divinely informed that he had fulfilled the covenant and passed the important test that was presented to him.

In the end, he did not sacrifice his own son, killing him with his own hands, but a ram instead. But it was as if he had truly sacrificed him, for he proceeded steadfastly every step of the way in progression towards that goal. And Allah, in His everlasting and all-encompassing mercy, sent to Ibrahim the gift of the ram instead. Providing for him a way out, that he may retain his beloved son, while at the same time, and more importantly, fulfilling Allah's command to offer the sacrifice

To this day, whether attending the haj themselves, or remaining in their homes across the globe, Muslims celebrate the remembrance of this ordeal by offering their own sacrificial animal. And they give thanks to Allah for the uncountable blessings He has bestowed upon us all.

Ibrahim passed the test. He was truly willing to sacrifice that which he was commanded to. That which was perhaps the most dear to him in his life.

Are you ready truly to sacrifice for Allah when the time comes? Will you pass the test?!

Prepare yourselves always for the test. Seek Allah's help and strength. It surely will not be easy, as it was not easy for Ibrahim nor for Ismael.

'Tis the season…for sacrifice.

For the true believers, that is year round, not merely seasonable. So let's work to be classified among the true believers, and take the important lessons to be had of this holy season, and apply it to the rest of our lives the whole year through!!


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