Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jesus and the Hajj

The purpose of this document is to help you discuss Hajj with your Muslim friend. The method is to give an outline of some Hajj/Eid Al-Adha rituals, briefly explaining their spiritual significance for Muslims. Hajj is quite a detailed process and it is not possible to discuss every step. But for the main steps described, we will consider some ‘points of contact’ between Hajj and Christianity.

What is the Hajj?
The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is incumbent upon every able bodied Muslim to do the Hajj at least once in their life. In 2008 Hajj was performed by 1.7 million foreign visitors, 500,000 Saudi nationals, and an unknown number of GCC residents.[1]

Why do the Hajj?
What is the benefit of the Hajj?
• All sins are forgiven
• Prayers made in the holy mosque are more effective
• Those who complete the Hajj are guaranteed place in Paradise
“The Hajj that is accepted by Allah and performed properly has no reward other than Paradise.” [Bukhari & Muslim][2]

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "Whoever performs Hajj for Allah's pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew."[3]
This sounds very familiar to a Christian. Jesus himself said, “You must be born again” to Nicodemus in John 3. Those who profess faith in Christ are described as ‘born again’ and start a new life as spiritual babies.[4]

Some Muslims also believe that prayers said during Hajj are more effective:
With regard to the religious benefits, the one who goes for Hajj earns the pleasure of his Lord, and comes back with all his sins forgiven. He also earns the immense reward which he cannot earn anywhere else than in these places. One prayer in al-Masjid al-Haraam, for example, is equal to a hundred thousand prayers elsewhere.[5]
Here is one thing about which Muslims and Christians disagree. Christian prayers can be said at any time in any place. In fact the Lord Jesus encouraged his followers to pray inside the ‘inner room’ of their home, almost like praying inside a cupboard![6]

The ceremonies of the Hajj
The Hajj is associated with many important rituals. Some are traced back to Abraham, others to the life of Mohammed. Space does not permit the discussion of all aspects of the Hajj.

a) Dressing in white

Pilgrims dress in a two simple white sheets. The white sheets have two purposes:
• White reminds people of death. The shroud used in the Middle East to bury people is always white
• White reminds the visitor of purity and cleanliness

White and Christians
There are a couple of significant references to the colour white in the New Testament. The first one is Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-3:
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
The Bible, in Rev. 7:9, also says that one day all Christians will gather dressed in white:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
This is remarkably like the Hajj gathering on the plain of Arafat, of which more will be said later. The white robes in this vision are a gift from the risen Lord Jesus (Rev 3:5) to those who overcome sin.

b) Tawaf - Circumambulation of the Ka’ba
Muslims walk seven times around the black stone, the Ka’ba. Various reasons are suggested for this practice:
• It reminds visitors of Abraham who built the Ka’ba
• It mirrors the motion of the planets, it is counter clockwise like most of the planets in the solar system
• It follows the example of Mohammed, and that in itself is sufficient spiritual justification.
It is a very old custom to circumambulate a thing for showing one's readiness to sacrifice one's self for the object of devotion and care and love. It is like mounting the guard.
Kissing the stone teachers the visitor to submit to Islamic law:
I know that you are only a stone and that you can neither benefit nor harm. If I had not seen the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) kiss you, I would not have kissed you. (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1520; Muslim, 1720).
Some also believe that those who touch the stone will have their sins removed. But due to the large number of people who do the Hajj, not everyone is able to touch the stone.

Circumambulation and Christians
There is really no parallel to the circumambulation for Christians.

c) Sa’yy - running between Safa and Marwah
This is based on the experience of Hagar and Ishmael after being rejected by Abraham in Genesis 16:
6 "Your servant is in your hands," Abram said. "Do with her whatever you think best." Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?"
"I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered.
9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." 10 The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count."
11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
"You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael, [a]
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone's hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward [b] all his brothers."
13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen [c] the One who sees me." 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [d] ; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
Muslim teaching adds extra information to the Biblical account. According to Muslims, after her expulsion Hagar ran back and forth between two mountains searching for water. The Hajj practice of sa’yy remembers this event, and teaches the pilgrim patience and endurance.

Christians and water
The theme of water/springs/rivers runs throughout the Bible. Eden has a spring that divides into four rivers (Gen 2:1-14), Ezekiel sees a supernatural river in his vision of post-exilic Jerusalem (Eze 47), and John’s vision of the New Jerusalem also includes a river (Rev 22:1-4).

Jesus also made some dramatic statements about himself and water in John 4:
7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
11"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"
And again in John 6:
13Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
And again in John 7:
37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as[a] the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Christians come to Jesus for living water – the Holy Spirit is ‘living water’. The Holy Spirit is a gift of the risen Lord Jesus to his followers. Through the experience of the Holy Spirit the spiritual thirst of a believer is quenched.

d) The plain of Arafat
On of the most powerful experiences of the Hajj is simply being together with so many other Muslims. Returning pilgrims speak glowingly of the communion they experience standing together on the plain. Standing together on the plain of Arafat also reminds pilgrims of the yawm al-Qiyamah (literally "the Day of Standing"), that is, Judgment Day

Christians and standing
Christians also believe that everyone will stand before the judgment seat:
11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
Christians believe that everyone will eventually kneel before Jesus, see Phil 2:
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
And after this all those who are right with God will again stand in His presence, see
Revelation 7:9:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
e) The Last Sermon
Mohammed’s last sermon is recited every year from Jabal ar-Rahmah – the mountain of mercy. This is the mountain where Mohammed received his revelation, and also where he preached his last sermon.

Christians and mountains
The references to ‘mountains’ in the Bible are too numerous to list. One particular reference of interest is in Hebrews 12:
22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Note that this is in the past tense – you have come – it is something that Christians have done by faith. This is a hard point to understand, even for Christians. But the Bible teaches us that in some way we have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem. The reason Christians don’t all travel to a single earthly place is because it’s unnecessary for us. Instead we look forward to the day our inner spiritual pilgrimage will be transformed into an outer physical pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem.

f) ramy al jimar - The Stoning of Satan
Muslims stone three pillars as a symbolic reminder of their ancestors’ rejection of Satan. Some say there are three pillars because Satan appeared to, and was rejected by, Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael.

Christians and Satan
Again a lot could be said about this topic! Jesus fought against Satan. One reason Jesus came was to destroy the Devil’s work. (1 John 3:8) The Injil records Satan’s temptation of Jesus during his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. The Injiil also records many occasions where Jesus defeated individual evil spirits, and the controversy this created, in Mark 3:
22And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons."
23So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: "How can Satan drive out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. 28I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."
30He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit."
Ultimately Jesus defeated all evil powers through his death and resurrection, see Col 2:
14Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Many Muslims have trouble accepting the crucifixion because they believe it would be dishonorable for God to allow Jesus to suffer. However the Bible interprets the event in the completely opposite way. At the crucifixion it was not Jesus who was dishonored, but rather Jesus made a ‘public spectacle’ of the Devil. When Satan and God’s enemies put Jesus to death, it showed how foolish and powerless they were. Even their worst weapon had no effect!

g) Eid al Adha – sacrifice of animal
Eid Al-Adha is ‘The festival of the sacrifice’. It is conducted on the 10th day of Hajj to remind Muslims of Abraham’s sacrifice of Ishmael.

As understood by Muslims, Eid Al-Adha corresponds roughly to the Old Testament ‘thank offering’. Christians would go a step further and say Eid Al-Adha is very similar to the Passover. Jesus is our sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Space does not permit the proper discussion of Eid Al-Adha, it is worthy of a entire article in itself.

Hajj is a deeply spiritual experience for Muslims. It affords a great opportunity for Christians to discuss spiritual themes with their Muslim friends.

Many Hajj rituals are linked to Abrahamic events. As such, they find their fulfillment in Christ. Christians experience and appropriate the work of Christ through faith.

A Christian could carry out many rituals similar to the Hajj, but the motivation would be completely different. Christians would not want to do the Hajj to be forgiven, they believe that has already happened by faith in Jesus death. But they might conceivably do the Hajj to remind themselves of what Jesus has already done.

[3] Volume 2, Book 26, Number 596
[4] 1 Peter 2:2
[6] Matthew 6:6