By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
11 May 2017
All the important stations of spiritual path, of which Sufis are said to be specialists, are necessarily to be tasted by a pilgrim.
All distinctions between humans (such as believers and nonbelievers, kings and paupers) dissolve in certain moments such as making love/celebrating relationships, encountering silence and death, being moved to tears and smiles and getting transported by great art, sublime sights and sacred spaces. Similarly, the distinction between Sufis and non-Sufis, Khosh-Aetiqad and Badd-Aeiqad, secular and traditional Muslims seems to dissolve when they are hosted by the Friend during Hajj. A pilgrim is a pilgrim – alone with the Alone. Here it is the alchemy of love at work. And one sees a sea of people hurled here and there who have at least temporarily divorced their egos, embraced the desert of abyss – their poverty – and felt something of That which makes one dumb and one knows no language except that of tears. In exchange for water from Zamzam, pilgrims dig a Zamzam of tears and that heals and saves them. As long as these tears will be shed, we must believe faith is still alive. Sinners and saints, so-called secular Muslims or so-called badaetiqaed Muslims, all are in tears.
All the important stations of spiritual path including Tauba, Wara', Zuhd, Faqr, Sabr, Tawakkul, and Riza, of which Sufis are said to be specialists, are necessarily to be tasted by a pilgrim – they constitute God’s offer/ choicest dishes to his guests in special five days of Zilhajj. A pilgrim is required to journey within to the sanctum sanctorum (heart) – and a thorough knowledge of symbolism of rites and sites in hajj is important here.
Pilgrimage is a marriage that is to be consummated in new birth. Few are born anew – few pilgrimages are accepted by God. For those chosen few the egos’ business is over and they will not keep account of kith and kin who did or didn’t come to congratulate them. They can’t look down upon anyone and they will never like to claim they are Hajis. Hajj is an opportunity to face one’s own nothingness and have a glimpse of the vast desert or abyss of Divine Nothingness that is our real being or home. Many are called and few are chosen to be consumed in Hajj.
To be a Haji is to have consented to be nothing. It is then one gets Divine robes and those who are draped in them aren’t recognizable as grown up humans. They have unlearnt many games growing up people play (involving dualism of mine and thine) and become children again. One can’t be hurt as the ego that is hurt by slang, by ingratitude, by disrespect, is gone. One gains one’s childhood which is heaven.
There is a hajj one never finishes performing or one ever seeks to recreate and keeps recreating in imagination. Some keep visiting the sacred cities in secret ways by adopting astral travel and some by the power of prayer. Mecca and Medina constitute maternal home for all Muslims and no wonder they ever aspire to be there, time and again.
There is a great scene in a great work of art on Yusuf Payamber (Iranian Television series directed by Salahshoor) when Hazrat Yusuf (AS) meets his father. The father is unable to move, tries and stumbles, falls again and again and almost loses consciousness as Yusuf comes nearer. Every Haji worth the name feels something similar on approaching twin cities in search of Yusuf (Soul) they have long parted with or apparently lost.
A helpful review of important Hajj travelogues from a more literary than theological viewpoint by Anwar Sadeed may be helpful to choose for oneself which one to read. Two books may at least be read and after returning one needs to bear witness to their content and that is a reliable sign that Hajj has been accepted. First for an idea of what spiritual/mystical heights are accessible, at least partly for lesser mortals like us/how sages perform hajj, read Fuyuz-ul-Harmaen by Shah Waliullah. Then for more accessible existential, socio-political and other meanings one might participate in, read Ali Shariati’s Hajj. Until one visits there and to counter apprehensions of hardships some verses from Iqbal’s imaginary journey to Mecca and Medina may be read. I quote a few:
At morn I told the camel to take it easy,
For the rider is old and sick;
But it goes on merrily as if,
The sand under its hooves is silk.
Let the traveller's suffering be more delightful,
And his lamentation even more frenzied;
Take a longer route thou camel-driver,
And make the fire of separation burn stronger.
One recalls Maulana Ali Mian’s impassioned explication of it. “The sand under his feet appears to him to be softer than silk; every particle of it seems to have turned into a heart, beating, throbbing and pulsating. To the camel-driver he tells to be mindful of these tiny hearts and move slowly.” “Iqbal rejoices in the hardships of the journey, and exhaustion and loss of sleep are a source of comfort to him.”
Blessed are those who have gone for hajj there but perhaps not less blessed are those who are eagerly waiting and their fire of separation is burning bright.
We have hundreds of Hajj travelogues. Few pass to the next generation. It is difficult to write one that will be enjoyed as literature by diverse readership. Kashmiri writers have largely ignored this subgenre. I recently came across one travelogue Yaeti Noori-sier Arz-o-Sama (Here the Illumined Earth and Heaven) by Abdul Ahad Hajini. The book has a few pages/passages that airlift us high above the mountains. One may be quoted:
“Yepaer Nazr Paewaan T’aepaer Noori Nor Grayi Maraan Yimo Wato Pakan Mai To Mohabbet Chaendyi Karan Qadm Qadm Pakan Ti Mynzil Baydi Naeran. Hen Hen Ti Eng Eng Talbeeh Waeran. Talbeeh Hound Graze Man’i Sodres Graek Khaelith Chaeti Mar Naavan.”
What distinguishes this travelogue is combination of theological, juristic and poetic approaches that make a delightful read, at least in parts. A writer or poet does Hajj in a more poetic way. Compared to dry juristic manuals, this one would seep deeper. However one feels many details could have been omitted and at times third person narration should have been adopted. One recalls significance of a sentence from Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction: “As a writer you must keep a tight rein on your subjective self—the traveller touched by new sights and sounds and smells—and keep an objective eye on the reader.” Nothing of significance for a Haji seems to have been missed. One misses, however, scholarly and insightful observations about this or that aspect of land and people, market and politics and other aspects of life that we find in many influential travelogues. It seems that the author has restricted himself to description of a seeker, a Zayir and he has succeeded in this. The ending is rather prosaic and it is in the opening pages especially that we find elevated, intensely passionate and poetic language that behoves the lofty subject. Hajini has a rich Kashmiri vocabulary (almost untranslatable for most modern educated Kashmiris) at his command and that contributes to the usefulness of his essays including neglected but in many respects valuable work on lesser known and waning cultural heritage and his timely contribution to Hasan studies.
I wish every Haji should attempt writing at least a page about the soul shattering encounter and every year Hajj committee along with Academy of Art, Culture and Language publish a selections from such accounts. A few excerpts from better known travelogues:
“You keep your belief, but it is the question of my life. Allow me to cure my heart-burn by kissing it” (On being prevented to kiss the lattice surrounding Roza-i-Rasool by the guard on duty. (Quoted in Saelani’s travelogue)
“That circumambulation was Abrahamic Sunna and my first dance of freedom.” (Abul Khair Kashfi, Watan sae Watan Tak.)
“Only two things are now Arab in Jeddah- language and azan. On the rest is an imprint of Europe.”
“Every nook and corner of Mecca is historical, but what isn’t preserved is history itself.” (From Shab Jayae ki Men Boodem by Shoorish Kashmiri),
Approaching the resting place of the Prophet(SAWW) is like an encounter with death that humbles us, strips us bare of all pretensions of holiness and one knows what a mess we have made our life and how unworthy we are to for the audience being granted. One trembles even from a distance. And then one doesn’t move of one’s own accord. One is moved. A few lines, by way of conclusion, from Ayaz Nazki’s poem composed after one such experience:
“Teth rozes paeth
kith ken woatus
kith ken beuthus
wuni chum basan
zen oas khawb.”