It was a long time ago, I was around eleven years old at the time, when I encountered the term "Shia" for the first time. I was informed that they were a group that "claimed" to be Muslims but held the belief that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the true prophet, rather than Prophet Muhammad. They also followed different prayer practices from us Sunnis. So when I discovered that they also performed the Hajj pilgrimage, just like us Sunnis, it naturally triggered a "404 error" in my mind.
But this was only the beginning. Over the years, I realized that this phenomenon kept repeating and was no longer limited to the Sunni-Shia divide, where the falsehoods made by many Salafi scholars regarding Shias were exposed and claims such as the ones I was taught were proven wrong through my readings. So whenever I came across an Islamic sect labeled as "disbelievers", I would search for their pilgrimage rituals if they also perform the Hajj pilgrimage. I wanted to know if they too made the journey to the Kaaba and performed the same sacred rituals. Interestingly, no fatwa had ever been issued prohibiting these sects from visiting the House of Allah.
In addition, there are millions of Muslims around the world who perform the Hajj pilgrimage each year without aligning themselves with the four Imams of Sunni Islam or even the Imams of Shia Islam. They may not be familiar with Sahih al-Bukhari or engage in debates about the authenticity of narrations. They might not possess the classical Islamic texts. However, they faithfully undertake the sacred pilgrimage because they identify as Muslims. They supplicate to Allah at His House, engage in the symbolic stoning of the devil, and adhere to the Islamic way.
If they're non-Muslims, as some claim, then why are they allowed to perform Hajj? Or perhaps Islam isn't confined to a single sect, scholar, or set of books, as the followers of each sect try to convince us, and it's possible to be Muslim without any of those?
If these people are deemed non-Muslims, as some claim, then why are they allowed to perform the Hajj? Or perhaps Islam is not confined to a single sect, scholar, sheikh, or set of books, as the followers of each sect try to convince us, and it is possible to be a Muslim without having to to believe in all of those?
Reflecting on these two questions, I arrived at a conviction that Islam encompasses and has room for all groups, even those who do not align with any specific school of thought. The essential duty and obligation that was imposed before the compilation of hadiths, the emergence of scholars, and the subsequent sectarian divisions, is the origin. I realized that the essence of the religion lies in diversity, no matter how much they try to suggest that rejecting a particular sheikh, book, or sect is sufficient to expel someone from the faith altogether or condemn them to hell, or that there is a single sect that will monopolize faith while the rest will go to hell. The scene we witness annually on the day of Arafah exemplifies the diversity of Islam. Islamic institutions of different sects celebrate this day, emphasizing the richness and inclusiveness of the religion, while they usually excommunicate others in their rhetoric.
The diversity and the message of coexistence and acceptance of others, which Hajj calls for every year to anyone who considers and reflects, extends beyond Muslims themselves and encompasses non-Muslims as well. I imagined myself as a non-Muslim and contemplated some of the rituals performed by pilgrims during this sacred ritual. They partake in drinking Zamzam water, believing in its blessings and miraculous properties. They come together to collect stones and cast them with all their strength at specific locations, believing they are stoning the devil. They kiss a black stone believed to have descended from heaven as a white stone but then was blackened by the sins of humanity.
Certainly, these actions will seem irrational to non-Muslims, and may provoke their ridicule of people who kiss a rock and stone an unseen devil, but for Muslims they are part of a great obligation, and every action has its meaning in faith and religious origin, whether it's the Zamzam water that God brought out from a well in the heart of the desert for Sayyida Hajar to feed her child, the Prophet Ismail, or the Black Stone on which the Prophet Ibrahim stood after building the sacred House of God.
When my little brother mocked the rituals of other religions, I told him: Imagine a non-Muslim watching you cry out of excessive faith because you kissed a stone, or saw you throw small rocks thinking that you're stoning the devil. What would be his opinion?
Therefore, the actions and rituals that seem illogical to some, are logical and faith-based for others, and are based on many principles that they believe in, and from this standpoint, why do we Muslims not act with the same logic with the rites and rituals of other religions and sects, such as the Hindus who revere cows, or those who revere tigers in Korea, or any other ritual that we consider illogical but is considered sacred by its people. When will we stop ridiculing those acts of worship that others condemn, pointing at their "illogical" rituals to signify the corruption of their faith, whereas if they look at us they would also see "illogical" rituals to signify the corruption of our faith!
This is how the Hajj, with its rituals, was my gateway to respect others, whether they are Muslims or not, and it made me certain that no creature has the right to judge anyone's faith with a single word. Now Hajj remains, in all its diversity and comprehensiveness, an argument that I can use against everyone who asks me about a group accused of being "disbelievers". I would simply ask, "Then why are they allowed to Hajj like us?" And this questions is always met by silence from the other person, whom I hope will go and read like I did to better understand. When my little brother asked me what I saw while mocking the rituals of other religions, I told him, imagine a non-Muslim watching you cry out of excessive faith because you kissed a stone. Or saw you gather your strength and throw small rocks into the air thinking that you are stoning the devil. What would be his opinion?
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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