Ḥajj, a Divine Rebuke of Racism
By Agha Shabbir Abbas
Racism, or ‘asabiyyah (clanism) as it is known in the Islamic lexicon, demands that a human believes he is superior to other fellow humans based off of slight differences, particularly ethnicity, language, or nationality. Be it in the American civil rights or South African apartheid context, or the abuse of migrant laborers in the Gulf monarchies, this racism has largely served as a chief justification for grievous human suffering. Humans typically refrain from harming the other due to our inherent feelings of empathy, however, racism annihilates this empathy and replaces it with takabbur (pride), allowing humans to partake in unspeakable evils. The religion of Islam, wholeheartedly rejects this pride, for pride belongs to none other than Allah; this is reflected in the entire essence of Islam from its commandments to its rituals, and of these rituals the most glaring is the pilgrimage of Ḥajj.
During the pilgrimage of Ḥajj, Muslims from every corner of this earth, from the entire spectra of skin-tones and languages, answer the call of the Almighty and bow their heads in humility; testifying in the Tawḥīd (Oneness) of Allah. In unison, they chant the talbiyah, declaring their lowliness in comparison to the singular greatness of Allah:
Labbayka Allāhumma Labbayk. Labbayk Lā Sharīka Laka Labbayk. Inna l-Ḥamda, Wa n-Niʻmata, Laka wal Mulk, Lā Sharīka Laka Labbayk.
In Arabic: لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ، لَبَّيْكَ لاَ شَرِيْكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ، إِنَّ الْحَمْدَ وَالنِّعْمَةَ لَكَ وَالْمُلْكَ لاَشَرِيْكَ لَكَ
In English: “Here I am at Thy service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners. Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is The Sovereignty. Thou hast no partners, here I am.”
When one declares “Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners,” it means that man is created to serve Allah alone, and everything other than this service is meritless; and when one declares “Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is The Sovereignty” one negates all self-pride, extinguishing oneself in the face of the Almighty’s grandeur. The millions of pilgrims, in their chanting of this talbiyah, completing the entire list of Abrahamic rituals together, circumambulating (tawaf) the Ka’bah, running (sa’ī) between Ṣafā and Marwah, become one body subservient to the Almighty.
This spectacular scene of unity, forces even those who suffered the cruelest forms of racism to rethink their conceptions. The great American Muslim activist and Black leader, Malcolm X, radically altered his beliefs after completing the Hajj in 1965:
“There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white… We are truly all the same-brothers. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”
For Malcolm X, yesterday’s devils became today’s misguided brothers, this is the powerful transforming nature of Ḥajj. But for those who, even after seeing the visual unity of peoples, discard this in the claim that all of this is just an unintended consequence of the spread of Islam, are far from correct. For the messenger of Allah, Muhammad al-Mustafa (s), in his utmost love and wisdom, ascended the Mount of ‘Arafah during his last Ḥajj, and exhorted the infantile mostly Arab Muslim community that:
“O people! Indeed, your Lord is one and your father (Adam) is one. Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor a black over a white, except by taqwa.”
The Prophet (s) did not say such devoid reason, as the Qur’an declares that his speech is divine revelation (Qur’an 53:3-4), he, the beloved messenger, through the infinite insight of the Almighty saw that the mostly Arab Ḥajj of the 10th Hijri year would in 1400 years transform into a mostly non-Arab Ḥajj. Therefore, it was there and then that he delivered, during one of his last public sermons, shortly before departing the world, a divine rebuke of racism that would manifest itself in the sea of diversity that is the Ḥujjaj (pilgrims) of Ḥajj.
(This article was originally written for the Masjid-e-Ali Newsletter)