ONE OF THE first pictures our children identify is that of the Ka‘bah. There it is: A black cube. Simplistic in taste. Overwhelming in presence. Surrounded by a sea of people clad in white. This is Allah’s House, our children know.
My child knows the story of Hajj and ‘Eid Al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice), at least in broken, incoherent pieces. But this year I want to make it a bit more whole for him. Now that he’s a big boy, “almost 7,” as he calls himself—much more of the journey should begin making sense to him.
And here is my point. The journey toward Hajj begins much before we board the plane. It starts in childhood. All our lives we hear of family, friends, relatives, neighbors, and elders going for Hajj. We have a lifelong consciousness that this is a sojourn we are obliged to make before we depart to the mercy of Allah.
As children, we overhear stories that sink in, become indelible marks in our memory, real life associations, or expectations for when we do actually find ourselves there. From my earliest days I heard how big a thing Hajj was. I believed it without ever having been there. When finally I did go, it came true for me. How could years of memory and association be false?
I had heard Hajj was tiring. It was. I had heard it was beautiful. It was. I had heard it was hard. It was. I had heard it was easy. It was. I had heard Allah would reconnect things, and He did.
As I walked the streets of Makkah, Madinah, and the sacred precincts, I saw with my own eyes what had always been described to me, and felt a lot of the emotions that people talked about.
The journey to Hajj started for the family of Prophet Abraham much before they reached there. As they walked the desert alone, Hajar, his wife and Prophet Ismail’s mother, began the lessons with her child long before her very own footsteps and pace would become obligatory rituals for billions on the path to Paradise.
The consummation of faith in One God and submission to Him alone—these are the goals of Hajj. Such were the lessons conveyed to Ismail when he was still an infant, witnessing a miraculous call to salah from his Lord. As a young boy, he then prepared himself for ultimate sacrifice. As a young man, he purified himself in the service of Allah, as he built the edifice of Allah’s House, the Ka‘bah, for His sake. He knew his goals well. He knew well the purity needed for any Pilgrimage. His expectations of the awesomeness of an experience of submission were all well ingrained in his soul.
This is the talk that should be known to our children. This is what needs to be part of their built-up memory and association before they finally make Hajj sometime later in their lives. This is not like any other ordinary traveling experience, where their knowledge points them to the best restaurants and cleanest bathrooms. This journey’s expectations are of a completely different nature.
A wonderful guide to this is the scholar Al-Junayd Al-Baghdadi. He asks a returning pilgrim some questions about his Hajj. That’s when the pilgrim’s expectations are corrected, and the pilgrim realizes that his journey was by far off the mark of an extraordinary experience because it never occurred to him what Hajj truly was, and what it really could do for him.
I do not wish for my soon-to-be 7-year-old to just think and know that Hajj is a big thing, without ever realizing what potential lies in it for him. I do not want him to be a returning pilgrim who finds out that he lost much and gained but little.
Al-Junayd asked the returning pilgrim several questions. Had he really pledged to give up sins when he left his home for Hajj? The man had, of course, never thought of that. For him, the journey was simply Hajj, but Al-Junayd insisted that the Hajj would not even start correctly if based on just a vague intention, rather than a serious pledge to abandon wrongdoing.
I want my child to know that Hajj is a beautiful opportunity that Allah gives us to make us pure like new-born children, sinless, with no misconstrued perceptions, and with a humble reliance on and trust in Allah. So now when my son meets someone returning from Hajj, he will know that this person has truly been through a major life change, where he has decided to maintain a state of newborn purity.
Next, Al-Junayd questioned whether the pilgrim thought of attaining nearness to Allah when he halted for the night at his various stations? Again, the returning pilgrim had no idea it was supposed to be like that.
We need to make sure that our children have this consciousness in them right from the start, so that they know one can “really” become close to Allah. The more one surrenders his soul to Him by doing what He asks of us, goes through hardships to walk the places that are special to Him, gathers with others to make a Pilgrimage, the nearer one draws to Allah, which is our goal in life and death, a goal that goes far beyond completing Hajj rites.
When we talk about donning the white cloths of ihram, we need to tell our children what they symbolize. They are humble and minimalist in the presence of Allah, for He does not like extravagance. It’s a time when we focus on what is inside us, not outside. Just like white will clearly show any bit of dirt on it, so should we be conscious of even the slightest impurity we have within ourselves.
The ihram is a lot like the kafan (cerement)we shall wear when we are prepared for burial, and the closest thing to exposing our nakedness, as when we stand before Allah, Who knows all our secrets. Al-Junayd wants us to know that when we put on the ihram garments and discard ordinary dress, we also at that point need to make up our mind to abandon our ways of evil and excess.
His advice teaches us that when we stand in the Plain of ‘Arafat and implore Allah, it should make us feel like we are truly in His presence looking at Him.
At Muzdalifah, we are to realize that vain desires are to be abandoned.
One ought to catch glimpses of Divine Beauty when moving round the House of Allah, and recall the angelic Throne Bearers circumambulating the Divine Seat, or else one has not moved around the Ka‘bah at all.
Sa‘i between the Safa and Marwa hillocks captures the wisdom and significance of the objective human effort to fulfill the arduous commands of God with all striving and total trust in Him.
Slaughtering an animal at the place of sacrifice reminds us of our need to sacrifice selfish desires in the way of Allah or else no real sacrifice is made.
Al-Junayd lastly tells us through his pilgrim that when we cast stones at the Jamarat, one materializes his resolve to rid himself of evil companions and influences, otherwise no real stones are cast.
We may have mock Hajj days at schools, or walk our children through the several rituals that make up Hajj. But that really is not the goal. It is not the pilgrimage itself, but what we find therein, and the journey that follows.
Early on, children need to know the real benefits that lie in a once-in-a-lifetime journey as momentous as Hajj. They will learn the details of ritual when they get there in any case. It’s the spirit of sacrifice and submission that we need to inculcate in them now.