By Khaled Ahmed
November 1, 2011
I am keeping my fingers crossed on this Hajj too, thanks to PIA, whose one crisis, apart from failing engines, is leaving the hajis stranded in Saudi Arabia.
In Urdu there are many words originating from ‘hajj’ meaning many things apparently quite apart from one another. The root ‘hjj’ means to ‘intend to do something’. The root also implies ‘intending to do something big’.
Thus the intention to make a pilgrimage at Mecca is called hajj ‘hajj’. Because of the annual nature of the ritual, the Holy Quran also uses ‘hajj’ to mean ‘year’. The root also means something else. It means ‘intending to block something from happening’.
It is from this sense of blocking something that you have the Urdu word ‘ehtijaj’. It means ‘protest’. If you raise an objection to something, you are doing ‘ehtijaj’. Objection itself means to throw something in as if to block.
Reasoning itself can be an intention to block. We have the Urdu word ‘hujjat’ (reasoning) from it. The Holy Quran is itself called the final and clear ‘hujjat’ (‘baligha’). In many contexts we use ‘hujjat’ to mean objection. It is used even to convey a sense of hesitation.
When a need is given reason, it is called ‘haajat’. A person who is in need is called ‘muhtaaj’. It means that he has ‘hujjat’ for wanting something. A Persian formulation makes it ‘hajatmand’. A more formal way of saying need is ‘ehtiaj’.
In the Bible there is a prophet named Haggai. The root indicated in Hebrew is ‘somebody born during a festival’. If you pursue the root further, it takes you, like always, to ancient Syriac. There it means ‘make a pilgrimage and have a feast’.
Hajj always had a strong association with feasting. That is why the ‘big feast’ happens for Muslims on Eid al-Azha, at the conclusion of Hajj. A person who does ‘hajj’ is called ‘al-haaj’. We make it informal by saying ‘haaji’, which means nothing at all in Arabic. At times we don’t take the ‘haaji’ title seriously and may even use it insultingly. Maybe because there are too many ‘haajis’ around in these days of easy travel.
I am at times alerted by the ‘hagio-’ prefix in English words. When someone wrote Hagia Sophia to describe a famous mosque in Turkey, I thought it had something to do with ‘hajj’, but that was not true. The formulation was Latin.
‘Hagio-’ comes from Greek, meaning holy or sacred. It led to expressions like stand in awe of or to worship someone. Originally, the writer of the lives of saints was called a hagiographer.
Today, if you write a very revering comment on someone it would be called hagiographical. The art of writing praising biographies has attracted the epithet hagiography.
Anything Greek will take us to the Aryan or Indo-European group of languages. In Sanskrit the same ‘hagio-’ prefix can be seen in the word ‘yajna’ meaning worship or sacrifice. Dozens of Hindi names are derived from this word. It is also pronounced ‘jagia’ at times. The Parsis have it as ‘Yasna’ in their old Avestan language.
One thing is certain. The basis of worship has always been sacrifice. In the ritual of hajj, sacrifice (‘qurbani’) is the central act at the popular level. It makes you go near (‘qareeb’) God. Correctly, however, for Muslims the stay at Arafat is the central act of hajj.
The writer is Director at the South Asian Media School in Lahore
Source: The Express Tribune