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Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014

Asian Opinions

Haj and co-existence

The Star/ANN | Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014

Pilgrims in Arafah, Mecca.

The haj ought to remind Muslims to regard as secondary the variations in gender, birthplace, skin colour, nationality, political rank, social status and local culture, and to shun narrow communalism.

In a Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government research working paper titled "Estimating the Impact of the Haj", one of the findings is that the haj (pilgrimage) increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects.

Contrary to outsiders' fears, the research finds that such an increased sense of unity with fellow Muslims is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Interestingly instead, hajis (pilgrims) show increased belief in peace and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions.

The research finds that, "Hajis are 22 per cent more likely to declare that people of different religions are equal [in terms of moral responsibilities] and 11 per cent more likely to state that adherents of different religions can live in harmony". Hajis are also almost twice as likely to publicly condemn religious militants and extremists.

Based on evidence, the research further suggests that such positive attitudinal transformation is an impact of increased exposure through social interaction with pilgrims from around the world (Clingingsmith, Khwaja and Kremer, 2008).

The annual haj season is, indeed, a template of universal brotherhood of various Muslim nations of the globe. The term haj is conventionally translated as "pilgrimage", which is far from giving the exact significance of haj. For example, "pilgrimage" - derived from the Latin peregrinus - strictly means "a journey in a foreign land". Performing the haj, on the contrary, neither implies a journey to a completely alien domain nor to a foreign land.

Rather, as the haj destination is Mecca, the domain has an affinity to each and every Muslim for at least two reasons.

First, it is in Mecca that the first House - dedicated to worship the one and only God - was ever set up for mankind (the Quran, Ali 'Imran, 3:96): "The first and oldest House of worship", as it was erected by the father of mankind Adam, and later restored by the prophet Abraham.

Second, Mecca is the "spiritual metropolis" (Umm al-Qura) of every Muslim - a fact twice mentioned in the Quran, which is itself a very ancient historical document more than 1,400 years old (see al-An'am, 6:92 and al-Shura, 42:7).

It is in this numinous and spiritual metropolis that millions of hajis (pilgrims) from various countries and continents collectively perform an intense, common set of practices as taught by Prophet Muhammad.

Arab, Persian, Egyptian, Berber, Turk, European, African, Indo-Pakistani, Caucasian, Chinese and Malay-Indonesian pilgrims are immediately accepted as brothers and sisters in spirituality.

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