In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر،
الله أكبر ولله الحمد
God is Greater than; God is Greater than; God is Greater than
All Praise, Thanks and Gratitude belongs to God Alone
We begin by praising and thanking Allāh, al-Muḥyī al- Mumīt (the Giver and Taker of Life), for once again affording us with the blessed opportunity of being able to celebrate ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā in unison and solidarity with the ḥujjaj (pilgrims) in Makkah, albeit under limited circumstances. In this ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā khuṭbah I would like to reflect on the anomalous fact that this year 2020CE/1441AH, for the first time since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, international pilgrims from outside of the country were unable to travel to perform the fifth and final pillar of Islam, the ḥajj.[i] This was the result of what I believe to be a wise decision by the Saudi ḥajj authorities to restrict the number of pilgrims performing the ḥajj this year to those already residing in the country and to observe strict health and safety protocols.[ii] The Saudi decree was preceded by an independent judgement from a number of international ḥajj bodies, including the South African Ḥajj and `Umrah Council (SAHUC) to cancel the 2020 ḥajj for their respective nationals in response to the highly contagious and deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.[iii]
We commend the judicious decision to confine the performance of the 2020 annual ḥajj to very limited numbers in order to prevent the global spread of the Coronavirus. In their compassionate response to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, ḥajj authorities were guided by one of the supreme objectives of the Sharīʿah, technically known in Islamic ethico-legal theory as the Maqāsid al-Sharī‘ah. According to the classical formulation of this theory of Islamic ethics there are five essential aspects of collective human flourishing, namely: life, religion, intellect, family, and property. The chief of which is the preservation of life or ḥifẓ al-ḥayāt.[iv]
Istiṭā‘ah: A Pre-Requisite of the Ḥajj[v]
While we laud the ḥajj authorities for taking this difficult, but necessary decision in the interest of saving lives, we commiserate with the millions of disappointed ḥujjāj who were unable to fulfill their noble intentions (niyyat) to undertake their coveted journey of the ḥajj this year. We make duʿāʾ and ask Allah, the Lord of Wisdom, to reward these intending ḥujjāj for their patience and forbearance (ṣabr). And if prospective ḥujjāj held firmly onto their noble intentions and continued to make all the necessary preparations and they were to pass away before performing their obligatory ḥajj, in Allah’s book they have done so. For the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) has taught us in an authentic ḥadīth tradition that:
إنما الأعمال بالنيات، وإنما لكل امرئ ما نوى
All actions are judged by their intentions.
And everyone shall have that which they intended.[vi]
Similar to all other acts of worship (`ibādah) the obligation for the ḥajj is conditioned upon an individual Muslim fulfilling certain prerequisites technically known as shurūt wujūb al-ḥajj.[vii] Due to the distinctive nature of ḥajj, which involves international travelling, the shurūt of the ḥajj are guided by the unique ḥajj requirement of istiṭā‘ah, which can literally be translated as ability. This prerequisite for ḥajj is derived from the most primary source of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an, in Surah Ali-`Imran, chapter 3, verse 97, in which Allah, the Most-High, proclaims:
وَلِلَّهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا
And Pilgrimage to the House is a duty people owe to Allāh, for those who are able to undertake the journey (Q.3:97)[viii]
According to the renowned classical commentator of the Qur’ān, Isma`il ibn Kathir (d. 1373) the above verse is one of the key evidences that established the ḥajj as one of the five basic pillars of Islam, of which there is consensus among all Muslims.[ix] Moreover, on the basis of the above verse of the Qur’ān, classical Muslim jurists have carefully considered istiṭā‘ah as a prerequisite for the obligation of the ḥajj and they have devised elaborate and disparate definitions of the concept and its components from an Islamic legal point of view. There is, however, consensus among Muslim jurists from all schools of Islamic law (madhāhib) that in addition to physical and financial ability, the safety of the pilgrim’s life and possessions during the journey of ḥajj, is one of the key components of istiṭā‘ah. In this regard, several Muslim jurists, including the contemporary Egyptian scholar, Sayyid Sabiq (d.2000), contend, for example, that if the pilgrim fears for their life as a result of a health pandemic (waba’) then the condition of istiṭā‘ah would not be fulfilled and thus the obligation for the performance of the ḥajj during that specific year would be deferred.[x]
Notwithstanding the above unequivocal legal reasoning and judgment (ḥukm), it is understandable that prospective pilgrims would feel disappointed and heart-broken at not being allowed to perform ḥajj this year. This is a natural emotion and I would venture to say a commendable sentiment from an Islamic theological perspective. It is my considered view that the intending pilgrim’s emotion of sadness coupled with a rational appreciation of the justifiable reasons for their inability to undertake the journey of ḥajj is an essential part of a faithful believer’s disposition. We supplicate and make duʿāʾ and supplicate that Allāh, al-Shāfī’ – the Source of All-Healing – will allow those pilgrims prevented from performing their ḥajj this year the opportunity to do so next year, Allahumma Amīn.
The ḥajj, like many other acts of worship, are not only rituals that need to be performed, but together with the physical actions and verbal utterances, rituals encompass higher symbolic meanings, which pose important ethical points of reflection for us. Such an understanding resonates fully with the key purpose and objective of the ḥajj as Allah, the Lord of Wisdom, proclaims in Surah al-Ḥajj, chapter 22, verse 28:
لِيَشْهَدُوا مَنَافِعَ لَهُم
(They travel to perform the ḥajj)
so that they may witness (and learn) beneficial life-lessons (Q.22:28)
The disappointment of the ḥujjāj, who were prevented from undertaking the journey of ḥajj this year as a result of the pandemic, holds manifold life-lessons not only for the pilgrim, but also for all of us. It is to a deeper reflection of the life-lessons contained in the surreal experiences of the intending ḥujjāj, prevented from performing ḥajj this year, that I turn in the second part of this ʿĪd khuṭbah.
Ḥajj and the Story of the Ant
In the hope of providing both prospective ḥujjāj, and ourselves with hope and solace, I share the following instructive story as well as a few reflections. The story and contemplations are derived from the writings of a good friend and Muslim peace activist, Rabia Terri Harris, who relates the following story:
A Friend of God (Walī) went forth for the Pilgrimage, and on a road in the middle of the desert he came across a little ant, struggling along. “Ant, where are you going?” he asked, in the way some people have of speaking with creatures. “Why, I’m going on Pilgrimage to Mecca, the same as you!” “But ant,” the Saint objected, “you will never make it! It’s hundreds of miles, and besides, you have a broken leg!” “What does it matter,” the ant asked him, “as long as I am on the way?”[xi]
The aim of this beautiful parable is to demonstrate the importance of being on the journey and on the on path towards realizing our noble goals and ideals, even if we may not be able to achieve them immediately. For both the ant and the friend of God, the Walī, the goal was reaching the holy site of Makkah. The Walī was focused on the objective (i.e. reaching Makkah to perform the hajj); whereas the ant was more focused on the fact that it was on the journey (to Makkah). For the ant, it was all about being on the right path, with the right intention towards a goal, even if reaching that goal was going to be a long and arduous struggle. For the Walī, it was less about the journey, and more about reaching the final destination. The parable of the ant and the Walī, holds critical lessons for all of us at this time, including for the disappointed ḥujjāj. I would like to elaborate on two teachings from the parable of the ant and the Walī, that highlight how we can approach goals we set for ourselves – by being focused on the final destination versus focusing on the journey towards the destination.
- Hajj: A Story of Perseverance
The first lesson of the story is about ṣabr (fortitude, perseverance, and active forbearance). Similar to the little ant, the intending ḥujjāj who were prevented from traveling for the ḥajj this year, were, figuratively speaking, on the road and that is what matters most to the Lord of the Ancient House of Worship in Makkah. Many of the intending ḥujjāj had already made travel and accommodation arrangements before finding out that the ḥajj this year was cancelled. The enduring journey of preparing ourselves – physically, educationally, and most of all spiritually – for undertaking the sublime and coveted journey of ḥajj is a lifelong pursuit. But even more than the demanding preparations for ḥajj, it is the sincere intention (niyyah) of the pilgrim that will procure for prospective pilgrims the reward of actually having performed the ḥajj, even if they were to die before fulfilling it.
Despite the incredible odds stacked against the ant, it was willing to struggle through the ebb and flow of its life and do the best that it could within the limits of its own capabilities. The ant displayed a profound and deep sense of courage and moral fortitude in the pursuit of its goal to go on hajj, and being on the journey was part of fulfilling that goal. However, unlike prospective pilgrims who may likely, Allah-willing, be allowed to fulfill their dreams next year or in the following year, the challenge of the tiny ant is even more formidable as it may never fully realize its noble goal.
The little lame ant, however, teaches us a profound lesson in life: that the realization of our noble spiritual and social goals ultimately rests with Allah, the Master of our Destinies, and not in human hands and that success, as we perceive it, is not guaranteed. Nonetheless, the highest success must always be our goal and we must always act with firm intention. Similarly, we must always be mindful that acting with a firm intention (niyyah) is a form of prayer, and prayer is always accepted. The story of the ant is a narrative of perseverance or ṣabr in the struggle on the path of Allah, the Most-High (al jihād fī sabīli Allāh). This reminds me of an instructive verse of the Glorious Qur’an, where Allāh, the Lord of Wisdom, proclaims in Surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 153:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ
إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
Believers! Seek help in patient forbearance and prayer.
Indeed, Allah is with the patient forbearers (Q.2:153).
The Story of the Ant and this instructive Qur’ānic verse teaches us about the difficult but important virtue of ṣabr as a key pillar of the disposition of a Muslim. In this way, many classical scholars, such as the great polymath Al-Ghazali (d.1111), have argued that ṣabr, together with gratitude and thankfulness (shukr) is a marker of one’s faith in Allah.[xii]
- Our Purpose is Servitude not Seeking Spiritual Perfection
The second lesson from the parable of the ant that I wish to illuminate which has great relevance for all of us especially during this challenging period in human history is that of seeking servitude rather than spiritual perfection. In the mystical discourse of Taṣawwuf these two approaches may be described as follows using the same parable of the ant: imagine that the Walī is focused on reaching the ultimate goal of fanā’ or spiritual perfection, whereas the little ant is focused on the journey of spiritual elevation and has a more modest goal of seeking baqā’ or servitude in this world. The first approach is a vertical relationship between the individual and Allah, the Most-High, in which the individual seeks secret knowledge of God, and the second is a horizontal relationship in which the individual seeks closeness to Allāh (taqarrub ili Allāh) through acts of kindness and servitude to Allāh’s creation. It is this latter approach of servitude represented in the parable of the ant being on the road towards the goal of performing hajj that I would like to commend as the path we should all be traversing.[xiii]
In this regard the words of the authoritative late ninth and early tenth-century Sufi teacher, Junaid al-Baghdadi (d. 910), is instructive as he describes the coveted mystical state for the true believer is to serve the lives of others as they embark on their earthly sojourns. According to this Sufi teacher, our goal is not about attaining spiritual ecstasy or secret knowledge of God (fanā’). Rather our goal is ensuring that we are on the road in active service to Allah’s creation (baqā’).[xiv] Such an understanding of our role is unequivocally enunciated in the most primary source of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an. In Surah al-Māʼidah, chapter 5, verse 8, Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, proclaims:
اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى
وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
Be just; for that is the closest thing to piety and Allah-consciousness.
And remain conscious of Allah;
Indeed, Allah is all-Aware of what you do (Q:5:8)
One important strategy we could employ in seeking servitude in this world (baqā’) is by cultivating virtues of altruism, compassion, justice, and beauty. In the midst of a global pandemic, these are virtues our world needs more of right now. Our frontline and essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic can be likened to that of embodying this interpretation of baqā’ – servitude to others. In this regard, frontline workers are like the little ant on the road facing a daunting task ahead in the midst of a breaking storm. Every new day healthcare professionals, teachers, funeral undertakers, unemployment agencies, shop assistants, and other essential workers have to pick themselves up, and muster the courage and strength to continue serving Allāh’s creation, despite the many health risks that their vocation’s pose to themselves or their loved ones. These frontline and essential workers have had to show immense courage and moral fortitude in doing their work largely in the service of others.
In the unfolding of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, we have also seen many more people in our communities losing their jobs and incomes and becoming food insecure. In response, we have seen hundreds of volunteers who have set up feeding schemes and soup kitchens to meet the hunger needs in communities, despite the challenges of maintaining physical distancing while serving communities. These volunteers too, embody the approach of baqā’ – servitude to others as a path to attain closeness to Allāh (taqarrub ili Allāh).
These are challenging times yet they offer cherished spiritual moments which inspire us to continue our life journeys of becoming more caring and compassionate human beings. We are immensely grateful for the selfless sacrifices of our frontline and essential workers, and community volunteers, who like little ants are on the road and serving Allah’s creation day in and day out. At this special time of ʿĪd al-ʾAḍḥā we ask Allah to bless them, keep them healthy, and draw them ever closer to Allāh’s infinite Mercy and Grace.
In conclusion, at this challenging time when we are dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and one of the largest annual gatherings on earth (the ḥajj), has been limited to just over 1000, we pray that Allah, the Lord of Compassion, showers Allah’s mercy on all prospective pilgrims and reward them abundantly for their patience (ṣabr). Most of all we make duʿāʾ and pray that Allah opens up the way for them to fulfill a sacred milestone and travel safely to perform their delayed ḥajj next year, insha-Allāh.
On this great day of ʿĪd al-ʾAḍḥā we acknowledge the sacrifices of workers across many different essential sectors within our country and the world, the healthcare providers, farm workers, supermarket staff, truck drivers, refuse collectors, relief workers, police services, teachers and many others who are unselfishly serving on the frontline of the pandemic. We acknowledge and understand that while their jobs may be fulfilling, it may also be emotionally overwhelming and physically exhausting. Our essential workers are not able to work in the comfort of their own homes, often putting themselves and their families at risk of getting exposed to the virus, and we want them to know that we appreciate them and we are grateful for their service and sacrifices. We pray that Allāh grant them goodness and ease, and keep them safe and healthy.
We lament the fact that millions of South Africans have lost their jobs and livelihoods since the beginning of the pandemic. It is heartrending to see long snaking queues of women and children waiting for a warm meal or food parcel on icy cold days. We express our gratitude to the volunteers in all the community action networks and other NGOs who have selflessly made and served hot meals in these communities. We ask Allah, the Best of Providers, to grant relief to those who face hardships due to food insecurity and the loss of income and livelihoods.
We make duʿāʾ that Allah inspire our medical researchers to find a vaccine and cure for the virus and we especially pray for the success of the first clinical trial in South Africa for a Covid-19 vaccine.
On this day of sacrifice, we remember in our supplications all those who have lost their lives during this pandemic, especially those who have succumbed to the Coronavirus. A number of families have suffered the loss of loved ones under lockdown, some very close to home. Constrained by the stringent physical distancing funeral regulations they have tried their best to provide their loved ones with a dignified burial. We make duʿāʾ that Allah receives the souls of those who pass away during this pandemic with boundless mercy and forgiveness and grant them the status of martyrs (shuhada’) in the hereafter.
Last but not least, we make duʿāʾ for all those who are ill. May Allah grant them healing and provide them with the strength and courage to deal with their mortality with dignity. We fervently make duʿāʾ and pray to Allah, al-Shāfī’ – the Source of All-Healing – to grant us ease and to protect us, our families, communities, and indeed all of humanity from the pain and anguish of this global pandemic insha-Allāh. Allahumma Amīn.
On this celebratory day of ʿĪd al-ʾAḍḥā, I encourage you to continue to nurture spiritual fortitude, to remain positive and place your trust in Allāh (wa tawakkal ʿalal-Allāh). Let us continue to be vigilant and to practice physical distancing. The public health threat of the coronavirus has worsened over the past month as lockdown restrictions have been lifted. The number of Covid-19 cases and deaths due to complications has dramatically risen in this province and across the country. It is clear that no person is immune to the disease and many in the community are especially vulnerable to infection and complications. Public health experts advise that the next couple of weeks are crucial as South Africa enters its peak in Covid-19 infections. However, this does not mean that we should keep ourselves isolated from others – we can use the phone, send WhatsApp messages, make zoom calls, and FaceTime our loved ones to remind them that they are in our hearts.
On behalf of the CMRM Board of Governors I wish you all:
ʿĪd Sa‘īd wa Mubārak
May You Enjoy a Happy and Blessed ʿĪd
Kullu ‘ām wa antum bi-khayr maʿa salāma wa ṣiḥah
May your entire year be filled with goodness, peace, and health
Baie Slamat vir Labarang
[i] For examples in history of previous occasions when the annual ḥajj was cancelled see here: Usaid Siddiqui, “Epidemics, war have impacted Muslim worship throughout history.” Al-Jazeera, 13 May 2020. Available online at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/epidemics-war-impacted-muslim-worship-history-200420210254391.html (accessed 7 July 2020).
[ii] Al-Jazeera, “Hajj 2020: What you need to know about this year’s pilgrimage.” Al-Jazeera, 6 July 2020. Available online at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/hajj-2020-year-pilgrimage-200623085733669.html (accessed 21 July 2020).
[iii] For public notification on the decision not to participate in the hajj for 2020 see the official SAHUC press release statement, available online at: https://sahuc.org.za/category/press-release/ (accessed 7 July 2020).
[iv] For a useful introduction to Maqasid al-Shari`ah see: Jasser Audah, Maqasid al-Shari`ah: A Beginners Guide (Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2008).
[v] For a comprehensive discussion of the pre-requisites of the hajj (shurūt wujūb al-hajj) see: Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, Al-Juzz al-Rab`i al-Hajj, al-`Umrah wa al-Ziyara (Saudi Arabia: Al-Maktaba al-Khidmat al-Hadithiyya, 1985).
[vi] This renowned ḥadīth was reported by the companion `Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) and can be found in the authentic ḥadīth collections of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim.
[vii] For a detailed discussion of the shurūt wujūb al-hajj see: Abdurrahman al-Juziri, Kitab al-Fiqh `ala Madhahib al-Arba`ah, translated by Nancy Roberts (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2008).
[viii] The English translations of the Qur’anic verses that follow are my own, and have been informed and enriched by the ever-increasing English translations of the Qur’an. Translations are inevitably interpretations of the original Qur’an in the original Arabic. They provide mere glimpses of the original meaning of the Divine text.
[ix] Tafsir ibn Kathir, Abridged English Translation (World Assembly of Muslim Youth: Darussalam Publishers, 2000).
[x] Ibid, p. 7.
[xi] Rabia Terri Harris, “Serving Peace.” In Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure, edited by Camille Adams Helminski, 175-182. (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2013).
[xii] For more on Al-Ghazali’s view on patience and thankfulness see: Kitab al-Sabr wa al-Shukr, BOOK XXX11 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum al-Din) translated by H.T.Littlejohn (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2010).
[xiii] For more on the Islamic concepts on fanā’ and baqā’, see the following encyclopedia entry: Kazuyo Murata, “Fana and Baqa,” Oxford Bibliographies. Available online at: https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195390155/obo-9780195390155-0256.xml (accessed 22 July 2020).
[xiv] Sa`diyya Shaikh and Scott Kugle, “To Love Every Life as Your Own: An Introduction to Engaged Sufism.” Journal for Islamic Studies, Vol. 26 (2006): 1-11.