1. Hajj, Symbol of Unity and Universality

Of all the rites of religion, Hajj is the greatest in its manifestation of unity and Tawhid. This is because the concept of unity, as expressed in creation, essentially involves the idea of universality. Just as God, the One, is eternal, ubiquitous, and the sustaining Creator of mankind, His last word and final religion must rightfully be universal.

Hence, Islam - the universal religion - is for all times, all places, and for all peoples. The Hajj clearly portrays this truth and the Ka’bah, its focal point, poignantly symbolises the same. Islam is for all times, past, present and future. For is not the Ka’bah the first place of worship?

God says in the Qur’an:

إِنَّ أَوَّلَ بَيْتٍ وُضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِي بِبَكَّةَ مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ فِيهِ آيَاتٌ بَيِّنَاتٌ مَقَامُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمَنْ دَخَلَهُ كَانَ آمِنًا وَلِلَّهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا وَمَنْ كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِيٌّ عَنِ الْعَالَمِينَ

“Indeed the first house to be set up for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for all nations. In it are manifest signs [and] Abraham’s Station, and whoever enters it shall be secure. And it is the duty of mankind toward God to make pilgrimage to the House - for those who can afford the journey to it - and should anyone renege [on his obligation], God is indeed without need of the creatures”. (Qur’an 3:96-97)

The word “Bakkah” means the place of confluence and congregation of throngs and it refers to the ground upon which the Ka’bah is built. God says that the structure there was the first house to be set up for mankind and hence is as old as man himself. It is also the last point of convergence that man will have available to rally around during his spiritual epic and sojourn on this planet.

The great-grandson of the Prophet (S), Imam J’afar al-Sadiq (‘a) said:

لا يزال الدين قائماً ما قامت الكعبة

Religion will withstand so long as the Ka’bah stands.1

Islam is for all places. This is graphically symbolised in the Hajj by the influx of people from all different places on the earth towards Makkah. As such the Ka’bah is the centre whose circumference encompasses the entire world. God says in the Qur’an:

وَإِذْ بَوَّأْنَا لِإِبْرَاهِيمَ مَكَانَ الْبَيْتِ أَنْ لَا تُشْرِكْ بِي شَيْئًا وَطَهِّرْ بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْقَائِمِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ وَأَذِّنْ فِي النَّاسِ بِالْحَجِّ يَأْتُوكَ رِجَالًا وَعَلَىٰ كُلِّ ضَامِرٍ يَأْتِينَ مِنْ كُلِّ فَجٍّ عَمِيقٍ

When We settled for Abraham the site of the House [saying], Do not ascribe any partners to Me, and purify My House for those who go around it, and those who stand [in it for prayer], and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim the hajj to people: they shall come to you on foot and on lean camels coming from distant places. (Qur’an 22:26-27)

Islam, the perennial religion practised by all prophets from Adam to Muhammad, was present in all times and all places because it was meant for all people. For God, the eternal and omnipresent Creator, created mankind and He alone knows best how to guide them - sending prophets to every people, at all points of human history.

Man for his part, in his imperfect and fallen state, is always in need of God’s guidance and is the perfect receptacle of this Divine guidance and grace. But man in his fallen and earthly nature can not immediately conceive of Divine realities, whether it be this supreme guidance or man’s own essence and spirit.

He needs help and support from the outside, so to speak. He needs tangible things to aid him and guide him towards guidance and the Guide. The Ka’bah serves as this external symbol and is God’s House not because God needs a house, but because man in his weakness needs a solid point of reference to turn to. The Ka’bah is as a lighthouse which guides sailors lost at sea back to the shore and back to their home and origin.

The first verse quoted above speaks to this role of the House of God being a source of guidance for all nations and peoples.

But it also mentions the House being “blessed”; meaning that there is really and truly grace flowing from this place and that it is a point that has been providentially chosen to be an “opening” up to the heavens.

In addition to being for all people a source of guidance, the House of God - and the symbol of Islam - is also a refuge and sanctuary for people. The Qur’an says:

وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِلنَّاسِ وَأَمْنًا وَاتَّخِذُوا مِنْ مَقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَنْ طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ

“And [remember] when We made the House a resort for mankind and a sanctuary, [declaring], ‘Take the venue of prayer from Abraham’s Station.’ We charged Abraham and Ishmael [with its upkeep, saying], ‘Purify My House for those who go around it, for those who make it a retreat and for those who bow and prostrate.”(Qur’an 2: 125)

It is a “resort” or “place of return” because man, who came from the Divine presence, needs to return to God by centering himself on Him by way of His signs - the House being the central-most and manifest of them.

It is a sanctuary, morally speaking, because it is a channel of grace and those that take refuge in it are openly showing that they no longer want to be renegades and fugitives from God. By so doing they accept the grace and receive mercy - entering the flock of God; and God protects his flock.

It is also a sanctuary, intellectually speaking, because it centers man, providing him refuge from the vicissitudes of the material realm and the multiplicities of the ephemeral world.

For Divine grace treats man in his totality and in all his dimensions - heart and mind, spirit, soul and body.

The Ka’bah is the life-line and beating heart for all people in the world. It lives and breathes. As a refuge, sanctuary, and guiding light shining in the dark, it attracts and draws the people to itself. It then graces and blesses the worthy from amongst them and releases them, raising them in spirit and body - giving new life and vigour to their spiritual being as well as enriching their material livelihood. It gives them a sustenance which at once increases their intellectual rapture, moral uprightness, and physical worship.

For in God’s Sacred House and the Divine Presence, man rises in respect and awe, realizing all the while that it is not really he who is “doing” the rising - as he is nothing in himself - but that it is his Origin and Source which is raising him. Seeing himself in this new and novel way, man begins to see everything as being connected to the Origin; casting aside the eyeglasses that made him see things as separate and independent entities, he now sees the all-pervasive unity that resides and resounds in creation.

His empathy and sympathy with created beings grows; and as he rises in rank and station, he is able what it is. He longs to reach out and raise with himself all those around and below him. The Qur’an says:

جَعَلَ اللَّهُ الْكَعْبَةَ الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ قِيَامًا لِلنَّاسِ وَالشَّهْرَ الْحَرَامَ وَالْهَدْيَ وَالْقَلَائِدَ ذَٰلِكَ لِتَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

“God has made the Ka‘bah, the Sacred House, sustentation for mankind - and [also] the sacred month, the offering and the garlands - so that you may know that God knows whatever there is in the heavens and whatever there is in the earth, and that God has knowledge of all things.” (Qur’an 5:97)

The word qiyaman or “sustentation” in this verse has been interpreted by the exegetes in many of the ways alluded to above. From the personal rapture and ascent of the individual believer to the mass revival of the Muslim Ummah; from the progress in din or religion to the increase in livelihood; from the physical exertions of the believers around the Ka’bah as they rise to the occasion of the Hajj to the attempts of Muslim communities for the establishment of justice and the rule of God on earth.

The Ka’bah was seen to be for all times (the first and the last) and for all places (as it is the centre) and for all people (as it is a guide, refuge, and sustainer or elevator for them). The following verse emphasizes the fact that it is for people of all places equally and that no one is to be given preference based on where he hails from.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَيَصُدُّونَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ الَّذِي جَعَلْنَاهُ لِلنَّاسِ سَوَاءً الْعَاكِفُ فِيهِ وَالْبَادِ وَمَنْ يُرِدْ فِيهِ بِإِلْحَادٍ بِظُلْمٍ نُذِقْهُ مِنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ

“Indeed those who are faithless and who bar from the way of God and the Sacred Mosque, which We have assigned for all the people, the native and the visitor being equal therein - whoever seeks to commit therein sacrilege with the intent of wrongdoing, We shall make him taste a painful punishment.”( Qur’an 22:25)

That the Ka’bah is for all people, the first and the last, can be seen from the following sermon of Imam ‘Ali (‘a).

ألاَ تَرَوْنَ أَنَّ اللهَ سُبْحَانَهُ، اخْتَبَرَ الاْوَّلِينَ مِنْ لَدُنْ آدَمَ صَلَّى اللهِ عَلَيْهِ، إِلَى الاخِرِينَ مِنْ هذا الْعَالَمِ، بَأَحْجَار لاَ تَضُرُّ وَلاَ تَنْفَعُ، وَلاَ تُبْصِرُ وَلاَ تَسْمَعُ، فَعَجَلَهَا بَيْتَهُ الْحَرَامَ الَّذِي جَعَلَهُ لِلنَّاسِ قِيَاماً.

Do you not see how God, most Holy, has tried the first of men from the time of Adam to the last of men from this world by means of stones [i.e. the Ka’bah] which neither harm them nor benefit them; and which neither see nor hear; and He has made them His Sacred House, the one which He has made to be a sustentation for people.2

Not only does the temporal extent of the Ka’bah’s influence span the extent of human history, it transcends it, making its presence felt even after death and in the afterlife. There is a tradition which says:

قال الصادق (عليه السلام) ودَّ من في القبور لو أنَّ له ُ حَجَّةٌ بالدنيا و ما فيها

Al-Sadiq (‘a) said: He who is in the grave wishes that he could give the world and all that is in it for just one Hajj for himself.3