When we look at the surface of the current state of the ummah then we see a landscape foreboding and dense with shadows. These are not the happiest and most celebratory of moments in our history.
But should we despair? Should we turn our backs on the state of Muslims and Islam?
I have a distaste for pessimism. And so I find myself instinctively opposed to these attitudes. But my distaste is not my own. It has been cultivated by my readings of the Quran, the Ahadith (sayings) of the Prophet (saw) and by that radiant trajectory of wisdom that stretches and arcs across a millennium of Muslim civilisation – the wisdom of our saints and sages.
So when we look at the current landscape, what do we do? We could turn to the cliché of the bottle and the water. Is it half empty or half full? To the pessimist the answer is obvious. There is only one answer. To the optimist the question only starts at its being half full. Many other possibilities present themselves and spring to life. They may be the acknowledgment of the miracle of water itself. There may be the marvel of human invention in the design of the bottle. Apart from the act of drinking, there are the numerous possibilities to which the water may be put to use in unique and creative ways.
In this regard I am reminded of a most inspiring quote by Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” It is not what we look at, but how and why we look at things that are the more important. We cannot always dismiss the “what”, but we ignore the “how” and “why” at our peril.
Today there are many Hujjaj (pilgrims) and potential Hujjaj who are seeking restitution, and, like all people subjected to exploitation, humiliation and degradation, restitution they must receive. But beyond the walls of restitution and requital there is yet a universe of beauty and liberating spirituality. All we need do as Muslims is never to allow ourselves to fall into that state of forgetfulness where we fail to renew and refresh our vision of things. The Quran promises us that “We shall reveal to you our signs on the horizons and within yourselves until it becomes manifest to you that He is the Truth.” And the Truth has declared itself as that which is Beautiful and that which loves beauty. “Hatta yatabayyan” (until it becomes manifest) is an emphatic imploration that we need to strive towards a continued renewal of envisioning and re-envisioning. In other words, to relentlessly strive towards seeing with “new eyes”. The multiplicity of signs that infuse the “horizons” remains the same; likewise the innate goodness (or Fitrah) that resides in every human being as the makhluq (unique creation) of Allah (swt), and which bestows upon him or her, his or her dignity and honour, remains the same. “Kullu mawludin yawlad ‘ala l-fitrah… (Every human being is born in a natural state of goodness…).
When we turn and look at the Hajj we observe five features that enable us to re-open our eyes and to reawaken our hearts to the wonders of this event.
These are the ideas of Tadhiya or Udhiya (sacrifice) – upon which the ‘Ayd al-Adha (The Feast of Immolation) is premised – Maghfirah (forgiveness), Tawbah (repentance), Rahmah (mercy) and Ma’rifah (knowledge of the Divine). These may be conceived as five constellations in the universe of Islamic Spirituality or Tasawwuf – which constitutes the essence, not only of Islam, but of every authentically revealed religion across the ages.
In the majestic spiritual and spiritualised event of the Hajj, in all the grandeur of its dignified humility, all five of these aspects emerge in one of the most fascinating interplay of juxtaposed alterities and opposites. We shall look at these sequentially.