The Fifth Pillar of Islam

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by Hazrat Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi Saheb R.A


There is no religious group or community which may not have its holy shrines and places of pilgrimage. In every faith there are some sacred places to which its followers travel at a certain time and as an act of religious devotion. This is so because it fulfils a great human need and satisfies a basic spiritual urge. Man, as we have said already, is always in the quest of an object through which he can gratify his inborn feelings of love and fidelity. He needs a profound event, a prolonged ceremony through which he can make amends for serious transgressions and obtain release from the stinging reflections of his conscience and the reproach of society. Within him there is a persistent desire for an impressive congregation which may be solely inspired by religious and spiritual motives and free from all other considerations. When we look at history we find that no nation or society has ever been without its shrines or places hallowed by memory where people have got together for offering up oblations and making entreaties to the Almighty (or gods and goddesses of their own creation). In the words of the Quran:

“And for every nation We have appointed a ritual that they mention the name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He bath given them for food: and your God is One God, so, surrender unto Him. And give good tidings (O Muhammad) to the humble. (-xxii : 34)

“Unto each nation We have given sacred rites which they are to perform; so let them not dispute with thee of the matter, but summon those unto thy Lord. Lo! Thou indeed followest right guidance. (-xxii : 67)

Excavators and archaeologists have unearthed incontrovertible evidence in support of this contention. History also tells that the institution of pilgrimage has always been present among the various peoples and communities of the world. But it is very difficult to get to the bottom of these rites and obtain an adequate knowledge of the rules and ceremonies governing them. What we have so far been able to learn is only of a fragmentary and speculative nature on the basis of which no precise picture can be drawn.

The Jewish and Christian faiths are nearest to us in the matter of the pilgrimage. Both of these have seen long stretches of history and enlightenment, and chroniclers, too, have done full justice to them. Even now their adherents make two of the most advanced peoples of the world, culturally, educationally and politically. Ancient monuments and other sacred places in Jerusalem are still the objects of veneration and they have been making a pilgrimage to that eternal city from the days of old. But when we compare it with the Islamic Hajj the image of the Jewish or Christian pilgrimage that emerges in the mind is, at least, weak and hazy.

We will now reproduce a summary of what appears about the pilgrimage in Judaism in the tenth volume of the Jewish Encylopaedia.

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which was called Re’iyah (meaning the appearance) used to take place on one of the three festivals of Passover, Shabn’ot and Sukkot. The Mishnah says that all were under obligation to appear, except minors, women, the blind the aged and the sick. A minor, in this case, was defined as one who was too young to be taken by his father to Jerusalem. According to the Mosaic Law everyone was to take an offering, though the value of it was not fixed. While the appearance of women and infant males was not obligatory, they usually accompanied their husbands and fathers in all public gatherings.

Gesius Florus, who lived in Jerusalem from 64 to 66 A. D., counted that 256,500 lambs were sacrificed at the one Passover Festival, and allowing ten persons to one lamb this would make 2,565,000 pilgrims. The Tosefta records that on one occasion 1,200,000 lambs were offered in sacrifice which would make a total of 12,000,000 pilgrims. These figures are evidently exaggerated.

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem did not cease with the destruction of the temple. The Turkish conquest under Salahuddin (1187) secured to the Oriental Jews the privilege of visiting Jerusalem and the sacred places. Among the Eastern Jews, specially those of Babylonia and Kurdistan, it has been the custom from the 14th Century onward to go on pilgrimage at least once a year, many of them actually walking the whole distance. The era of the Crusades evidently encouraged pilgrimage of Jews from Europe.

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the consequent settlement of many exiles in Turkish territory largely increased the number of pilgrims. The goal of their journeys was chiefly the tomb of Samuel the Prophet at Ramah where they held annual communions and celebrations.

The Jews of Palestine complain of the lack of interest on the part of the co-religionists elsewhere as compared with the thousands of Christians who avail of themselves of modern opportunities to visit the Holy Land

Pilgrimages are made usually on fixed days in the year, called by the Oriental and North African Jews as ‘days of Zi’arah.’ On such days it is customary to visit the tombs or relics of certain personages who in early or medieval times were famous as kings or Prophets for their holy lives. The days of pilgrimage are celebrated by prayers, rejoicings and popular festivals.

In Jerusalem a crowd of Jews gathers before the western wall of the Temple of Solomon every Friday evening and on the eves of the feast days, as well as on 23 successive days from the eve of the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Ab. On the latter date the religious service occurs at midnight.

As for the institution of pilgrimage among the Christians an outline of it is reproduced on the next page from the 10th volume of the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.

“A pilgrimage”, says it “is a journey undertaken to visit sacred places, such as, the scenes of our Lord’s earthly life in Palestine, the ‘threshold of the Apostles’ at Rome or the shrines of saints and martyrs.

“It was natural for a Christian to wish to tread again the paths treaden by the Saviour, though the first generations of Christians did not seem to feel as strongly as their successors. From the 3rd Century certainly the sacred places were visited. Many Christians have felt far greater attraction to the scene of their Lord’s passion and resurrection than to those of His earthly ministry.

“From the 13th Century pilgrimages to the Holy land, though still frequent, were less numerous than those to Rome. Next after Jerusalem, Rome was the city which drew the largest number of pilgrims. The causes which contributed to the rise of the Papacy made Rome a pilgrim resort; more specially the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul exalted it into the goal whither Roman Catholics flocked.

“One centre of interest was the catacombs. At first used as burial places, they afterwards became sacred places, hallowed by the bones of martyrs and visited by thousands of pilgrims. The pilgrims have never ceased to visit Rome; the large number of Churches have been continuous sources of attraction.”

This was only about a few places of pilgrimage. There is a bewildering abundance of relics, tombs and shrines not only in Palestine but in all the countries inhabited by Jews and Christians. A detailed account of the graves of saints and martyrs and other sacred places is given in the two monumental works we have referred to above. In them the contributors have, further, mentioned the days on which the pilgrimage was to be made and the different rituals that were considered necessary on such occasions.

When one looks at the excessive attachment of the Jewish and Christian peoples (the ‘People of the Books’) to shrines and the exaggerated religious fervour with which they undertook long and tedious journeys to them and which had, ultimately, pushed them into the lap of Polytheism it becomes apparent why the holy Prophet had taken such great pains to put an end to the custom.  He was apprehensive of the unholy practices becoming rampant among the torch-bearers of Monotheism and the last of the Divinely ordained communities with which rested the responsibility of lending guidance to mankind till the day of the Last Judgement. He ordered his own grave to be kept free from all Polytheistic ways and performances. It was his chief anxiety during his last illness.

It is related by Hazrat Ayesha and Abdullah-bin-Abbas that “when the Prophet fell ill he would cover his venerable face with the sheet and when he became restless he would cast the sheet away.  In this condition he said, ‘The curse of God be upon the Jews and Christians who have converted the graves of their Prophets into places of performing the prostration’. He was, in this way, warning his followers against such customs and practices”.’

It is, further, related by Hazrat Abu Huraira that the sacred Prophet once said, “May God destroy the Jews. They have made the graves of their Prophets into places of worship”.

It is related by Hazrat Ayesha that once Umm-i-Salma was talking to the Prophet about the Synagogue of Maria she had visited in Abyssinia. She spoke of the paintings she had seen in it. The Prophet, thereupon, remarked, “These are the people who, when a good or pious person died among them, built a temple on his grave.  They are the worst of the creatures of Allah.”

Yet another Tradition reads: “O Allah : Let my grave not be an idol to which worship may be offered. Allah is severely displeased with those who have made the graves of their Prophets into places of worship”.

The Prophet has forbidden his followers to make a journey specifically with the object of visiting a tomb or shrine. He said, “A journey, with intention and preparation, is permissible only to three mosques Masjid-Haram, Masjid-i-Nabwi and Masjid Aqsa”.

He has, thus, made the Muslim Millet safe against the perverting influence of tombs and shrines which had led many a community into Polytheism and idolatry.

Unfortunately, however, some sections of Muslims failed to abide by the Prophet’s advice and went astray although it was what had kept him worried even on the death-bed. They, too, succumbed to the spell of tombs and shrines and began to visit them out of religious devotion covering long distances and undergoing all sorts of difficulties. They took to prostrating themselves before the graves of holy men and making their vows and petitions to them and showing reverential respect in many other ways, as was the habit of the Jews and Christians. The prophecy of the sacred Prophet has been fulfilled to the very letter that “you will wholly go in the same direction as the earlier peoples did. If they will move by a span you, too, will move by a span and if they will move by a cubit you, too, will move by a cubit”.

The tombs and shrines (many of which were false and fictitious) not only encroached upon the right of the mosques but, sometimes, also took the place of Masjid-i-Haram and the House of Ka’aba. The ignorant and the unknowing began to gather around them in large numbers and soon it gave rise to the practice of celebrating the Urs and holding fairs in commemoration of the death of the holy men with whom these were associated. The condition of these people has been eloquently depicted by Ibn-i-Taimiyah in these words, “The tombs among them are crammed with people while the mosques are empty and deserted.”

A traveller going round the Muslim World will witness, from place to place, the depressing spectacle of Polytheistic practices be­ing performed at tombs, shrines and Imambaras (to which large properties are endowed) and dialogues carried on with the religious divines buried in them in a manner most revolting to the spirit of Islam.

Among the religions of India, namely, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, there is a profusion of temples and other places of pilgrimage that are held sacred owing to their association with some special incident like the receiving of enlightenment by a saint or holy man or the appearance (according to the belief of their adherents) of a god or goddess in a manner outside of nature. The number of religious fairs and bathing festivals in these communities is very large.

The places of pilgrimage are mostly situated on the banks of River Ganges where tens and thousands of persons collect for a dip in its holy waters. Some of the bathing festivals are held once or twice a year and others once in two years. There are also bathing festivals and fairs whose turn comes after many years like the Kumbh Mela at Prayag which is held every twelfth year and attracts millions of pilgrims from all parts of the country. The rituals also vary from one place to another reflecting the conceptual differences of the sects that go to make these communities.

These fairs are tied to mythological lore and legends relating to deeds and relationships of the deities. On seeing them one is amazed at the miracle of the Quran which, at the time of the construction of the House of Ka’aba, took care, first of all, to deal a deathly blow to Polytheism, mythical lore and fairyism in which the rites and ceremonies of Pilgrimage in other communities have got steeped. It says :

That (is the command). And whoso magnifieth the sacred things of Allah, it will be well for him in the sight of his Lord. The cattle are lawful unto you save that which have been told (to) you. So shun the filth of idols, and shun lying speech. Turning unto Allah alone, not ascribing partners unto Him. (xxii : 30-3 1)

This was a description, in passing, of the form and formalities of Pilgrimage in some of the leading religions of the world whose adherents run into millions.

Remarks Hazrat Shah Walliullah: “The foundation of Pilgrimage is present in all communities A place which might be sacred in their eyes as a landmark of God or on account of its association with the deeds, sacrifices and penances of their pre­cursors was needed by all of them so that it could be helpful in reviving the memory of the favourites of the Lord and their achievements. The House of Allah enjoys a preference over such places because clear signs of Allah can be seen there and it was built by Hazrat Ibrahim who is the spiritual progenitor of most of the nations. He built the First House at a barren and deserted place at the command Allah for His worship and the Hajj Pilgrimage. If, aside of it, anything exists at any place it has definitely got polluted with Polytheism, perversion and innovation”.

It is impossible to disagree with what Hazrat Shah Waliullah has said. The following verse of the Quran will come automatically to the mind of anyone who compares the Islamic Haj with the Pilgrimage in other faiths.

“Unto each nation have We given sacred rites (of worship and sacrifice) which they are to perform; so let them not dispute with thee of the matter, but summon thou unto thy Lord. Lo! Thou indeed followest right guidance. (-xxii : 67