Are the rites of pilgrimage pagan?
Are the rites of pilgrimage pagan?
Pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam. Islam came to eradicate paganism and spread knowledge and virtue among people. It is unacceptable to believe that the pillars of such a religion include elements of pagan rituals. Thus, the idea that the pilgrimage rites are pagan practices stems from ignorance and a misunderstanding of Islamic law as well as from the inability to understand the meaning of the term paganism which is construed differently by different people.
If we were to agree on the meaning of this term, there will be no problem whatsoever. Paganism in Islam means attributing the ability to benefit or harm or any other divine characteristic to other than God the Almighty and Supreme. If a person’s heart is attached to some other powers in which he sees salvation and happiness, then this person is considered a pagan and becomes vulnerable to all powers other than God. Islam, on the other hand, calls on people to turn only to God, the One Lord of the heavens and earth and all that is in between, the Creator of everything. The Father of prophets Abraham (peace be upon him) said: “Verily! I have turned my face towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, Hanif [Islamic Monotheism, i.e. worshipping none but Allah], and I am not of the idolaters” [6: 79]. There is no doubt that certain acts of worship are time and place specific. If there is some reverence in Islam for places of worship such as mosques and pilgrimage sites or for certain times such as Ramadan and the ten days of Dhul-Hijja [the twelfth month in the Islamic year], it is not acceptable to construe these places and times as divine or to consider the reverence attributed to them as a retreat from monotheism to paganism.
The One worthy of veneration, the One we turn to by our by supplications, the One we fear and revere and the One Who is believed to have absolute power is God the Almighty. All revered times and places attached to some acts of worship are not venerated per se and no one attaches any divine attributes to them. People perform acts of worship in these places and at these times but do not direct their worship to them; there is a huge difference between the two.
We can clarify this with the following example. Can we understand people’s respect to any memorial statue by publicizing its pictures, using it as a mark on certain official papers and the like as worshipping this memorial or as an act of paganism? Is this possible today? Or, is there not a difference that all people understand between religions and paganism and reverence for certain places whether these places are of religious, national or racial significance? We cautiously offer this example while knowing the religious stand on pictures and sculptures.
Hence, we maintain that pilgrimage in general is directing one’s acts of supplication, remembrance, and sacrifice to God the Almighty for all of these are devotional acts which can be directed to none but Him. All places and times in which these acts of worship are performed are no more than place and time frames and circumstances. They are revered because God reveres them, not because they have any divine attributes. Tawaf [circumambulating around Ka’ba] and sa’y [going between Safa and Marwa] are acts of physical worship which include supplications and remembrance with the aim of pleasing God the Almighty. The Ka’ba, Safa and Marwa are mere places where such acts of worship are performed. It should not by any means occur to a pilgrim that these places have any special effect on the universe or any power to bring benefit or cause harm. The same applies to the rite of stoning. The pilgrim recalls the feelings of Abraham (peace be upon him) when he resisted Satan and stoned him in obedience to God and when he was about to slaughter his son Isma’il (peace be upon him). This should motivate Muslims to renounce evil and stay away from it and to open their hearts to the worship of God the Almighty. Thus we find the pilgrims announce God’s greatness with every stone they throw. They must not believe that the place of stoning [Al-Jamarat] has any divine attributes. If this is so, then what kind of paganism is there in it?! When Muslims kiss the Black Stone, they are merely venerating God the Almighty and following the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). They are commanded to make takbir [saying ‘God is Great’] and tahlil [saying ‘there is no deity but God the Almighty’] when kissing the Black Stone in order to refute any misunderstanding.
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him) kissed the Black Stone and said: “I know you are just a stone that does not have the ability to either bring benefit or cause harm. Had I not seen the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) kiss you, I would not have done so” (recorded by Bukhari and Muslim). It was explained in the book Fat-h Al-Bari that Umar only made this statement because people were recent converts to Islam and he feared that kissing the Black Stone would be construed as a kind of reverence to stones as was the practice of the Arabs before the advent of Islam. He therefore wanted to teach the people that the act of kissing the Black Stone was one of obeying the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and following his example and not because the stone had the power to benefit or harm as was the belief before Islam.
Al-Qadi Ayad said: “Kissing the Black Stone is not an act of worshipping the stone, but worshipping God the Almighty and following His orders. It is similar to His order to the angels to prostrate before Adam. When kissing the Black Stone, it is mandatory to make takbir to show that this act is done in obedience to God the Almighty alone. A Muslim is always required to distance himself from the doubts raised by the enemies of Islam to shake his beliefs and cause him to reject his religion. He is also required to know that Islam — with all its regulations and rules — is the religion which God wants for His worshippers because it is suitable to all aspects and affairs of life. God says: “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” [5: 3].
We must warn Muslims that it is only permissible to kiss the Black Stone and touch Al-Rukn Al-Yemani and not to seek blessings by touching the other walls of the Ka’ba or the post placed on the Mount of Mercy on Arafat. Ibn Hajar Al- Haythami said: “Pilgrims should not kiss or touch the two north sides [the corners of the Ka’ba from the direction of Syria].” However, it should be known that it is permissible to touch the Multazem [the part of Ka’ba between its gate and the Black Stone] to supplicate God and seek refuge in Him.
And God the Almighty knows best.