In Islam the entire course of devotion is to God alone. Muslims go to Makkah in glory of God, not to kiss a stone or worship a man or a semi-divinity.
Kissing or touching the Black Stone at the Ka`bah is an optional action, not an obligation or a prescription. Those who kiss the Black Stone or touch it do not do it because they have faith in the Stone or attribute any superstitious qualities to it. Their faith is in God only.
They kiss or touch or point to the Stone only as a token of respect or a symbol of love for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who laid the Stone at the foundation of the Ka`bah when it was reconstructed.
That event has a special significance. It depicts Muhammad as a man designated for peace. When the Ka`bah was under reconstruction, some years before the advent of Islam, the Black Stone was to be laid at its foundation. The tribal chieftains had a quarrelsome dispute over him who was to have the honor of restoring the Stone.
This was a very serious matter and the shadows of civil war hung over the holy place. The Stone was held in especially high reverence by the chieftains, although it was nothing more than a piece of stone.
This reverence may be attributed to the fact that the Stone was connected with Prophet Abraham, the great grandfather of the Arabs, and that it was, perhaps, the only solid stone remaining from the antique structure of the Sacred Edifice.
Be that as it may, the Stone as such has no significance whatsoever as far as Islam and the Muslims are concerned.
When the chieftains failed to settle the dispute among themselves, they agreed to let the first incomer decide the issue. Prophet Muhammad was the first incomer. He then decided to wrap up the Stone in a piece of cloth and asked the disputants to hold it together and restore it in such a way that each chieftain would have had a part in the operation.
They were happy with his wise decision and put it into effect immediately. Thus the issue died out and peace was maintained. This is the moral of the story of the Black Stone. So when the pilgrims kiss the Stone or point at it with reverence, they do so in remembrance of Muhammad, the wise peace-maker.
The point may become clearer by comparison. It is a natural thing for a good patriot returning from exile, or a fighting soldier coming back from the battlefield to do certain things upon reaching the borders of his beloved homeland. For example, he may kiss the ground at the borders, or embrace with deep emotions the first few compatriots he meets, or show admiration for some landmarks.
This is considered normal and appreciable, but no one would think that the patriot or the soldier worships the ground or deifies his fellow compatriots or attributes some Divine qualities to the landmarks. The behavior of the pilgrims should be interpreted in a similar way.
The Ka`bah at Makkah is the spiritual center of Islam and the spiritual homeland of every Muslim.
When the pilgrim reaches Makkah his feelings would be like those of a patriot coming home from exile or a triumphant soldier returning from a decisive battle. This is not a figurative interpretation. It corresponds with the facts of history.
The early Muslims were expelled out of their home and forced to live in exile for years. They were denied the right to worship in the Ka`bah, the most sacred house of God in existence.
When they returned from exile, the Ka`bah was their main destination. They joyfully entered the Sacred Shrine, destroyed all the idols and images that were there, and completed the rites of pilgrimage.
This interpretation is enlightened by some unusual experiences of extraordinary people. For example, a famous Hungarian writer fled his invaded country and took with him a handful of earth. Literary annals tell that the writer found his greatest comfort and deepest joy in that handful of earth. It was his source of inspiration and symbol of hope that he would return to a free homeland at last. (I read this account during the fifties and very much to my regret, cannot locate the exact source or remember the writer’s name)
Similarly, a documentary called “The Palestinians” was prepared by CBS and televised on Saturday June 15, 1974. In it, a wealthy businessman, who fled the Zionist terror in Palestine, was interviewed at his extremely fashionable home in Beirut. When he was reminded of his good fortune in exile he smiled, pointing to a small bottle half-full of earth. To make his point, he added that he brought it with him from Jerusalem when he fled; that it is more valuable to him than anything he possesses; and that he would give up all his possessions to return to Palestine, his homeland. What is more significant about this interview is that the man’ s family was more emphatic and expressed stronger feelings. It will not be at all surprising if it turns out that this man represents many others like him and if that small“ earth treasure ”becomes a very special, even a sacred, thing in the years to come
In a more tangible sense, the Associated Press reported on October 14, 1973, that “ the Last Israeli strong points on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal surrendered … and 37 tired and bedraggled Israeli troops were paddled in dinghies across the waterway to captivity. … Some of the Egyptian troops, carried away with the emotion of finally liberating this last stronghold (the Bar-Lev line), grabbed handfuls of sand and put it in their mouths. Others kissed the ground.” (Dispatch Observer, p. 2A)
More recently, the same news agency, reporting on the returning Syrian prisoners of war, said that the first man off the plane “sat upright on a stretcher on the stumps of his amputated legs . . . ‘Legs are nothing. We are ready to give our soul . . .’ he shouted. He then insisted on being lifted from his stretcher and placed on the ground so that he could bend down to kiss the soil.” (Dispatch Observer, June 2, 1974, p. 3A)
It is in this human perspective that the Black Stone story should be viewed. And it is in the light of such human experiences under extraordinary circumstances that it is best understood
Concluding Remarks about the Hajj
The visit of to the tomb of Prophet Muhammad at Madinah is not an essential obligation in making the Hajj valid and complete. But it is always advisable and strongly recommended that whoever can reach Madinah should visit the Prophet’ s tomb to pay his respect to the greatest teacher that humanity has ever known.
It should be remembered that the climax of Hajj is marked by offering a sacrifice, an oblation in the way of God, to celebrate the completion of this devotional course and feed the poor so that they may feel the universal joy of the `Eid Day.
This duty is not undertaken by pilgrims only but by all Muslims with means in every corner of the globe
One last remark relates to the question of sacrifice and what it actually symbolizes. As already stated in the discussion of the `Eids, it is not the meat or blood that pleases God. It is the expression of thankfulness to Him, the affirmation of faith in Him, that historic event when Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) was ordered to offer his son in sacrifice, an order which the father and son were ready to obey unquestioningly. But the son’ s life was spared and ransomed by a ram.
The offering of sacrifice has become an annual celebration to commemorate the occasion and thank God for His favors.
Hajj & The Application of Faith
We remind the readers again that there are minor differences of interpretation between the various schools of law regarding few details in the exercise of prayers, fasting, alms & pilgrimage. However, following any of the authentic schools is acceptable.
The article is excerpted from Dr. Hammudah’s well-known book “Islam in Focus”.
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