At the time these notes are being read, the Waqoof-i-Arafat, the central rite of the Hajj, will be over, and the nation will be marking Eid. At the time of writing, however, I won’t have performed it, though I would be going to. I do not, I must admit, have a particularly strong belief in the Almighty, but I do believe that He has given certain orders, and they are to be obeyed. I am thus in this city and have been for a few days but do not claim to know it as well as I know Lahore, though here I am a guest of the Almighty, and there part of the riffraff. I wonder if anyone else has heard of the Lahori who prayed that while both Makkah and Medina were wonderful places, LhorLhorai. Or the Lahori who phoned back home he had caught a fever, and would someone back home please offer a degh at Data Sahib for his recovery. I can imagine Lahoris these days ordering a degh at Data Sahib to ensure a safe return.

One’s entire life had been centred on coming here, for the Haj. This is a once-in-a-lifetime journey, and though there is no personal application, I can see why Makkah being a Haram, or sanctuary, is a great help. I mean, if someone wants to visit punishment upon my head for stealing his buffalo (or camel, I suppose), I don’t want him to do it while I am busy worshipping. In a Haram, revenges are suspended. Not cancelled, mind you. But if a criminal and the person seeking to wreak vengeance on him come across each other during Hajj, they go on with their business, and the Haram (and other pilgrims) remain undisturbed. After all, if a buffalo or camel thief has turned to worship, that must be a good sign, right?

One of the features of Makkah not generally mentioned is that it is hilly. Its being in the desert is mentioned often enough, though it must be added that the idea of deserts being sand dunes is based on the Sahara Desert; actually, there’s a lot of rock and scrub. But the hilliness means that it was a much more nuanced existence than we usually imagine. These are not high, even for hills, but enough to make tunnels needed in the modern city. I hope MianShehbaz doesn’t turn to them when he begins to be bored with underpasses and overhead bridges, especially since Lahore is largely a flat city, apart from some gentle slopes in the Old City or maybe in low-lying areas, where water accumulates during monsoons.

These days, the very international character of the Haj is an issue. Sure, you have people coming from all over the world, but one result has been that the Saudi government, which is a national government, has to supervise the event. The Saudi dynasty is in an awkward position. It has to supervise such a large event even while avoiding its interference with the national goals it has set itself, and one can see why there is a need for a supranational authority. It is no wonder that the Haj was always previously supervised by a Caliph. Indeed, it was one of the attributes of the Caliphate that it should supervise the Haj. That is behind the calls, rather weak (and weaker after a look at the map), that Daesh should take over the Harmain; or that the Saudi King should declare himself Caliph. Perhaps King Khalid’s declaration that he was the KhaidimulHarmain (Servant of the Two Harams) rather than Malik ul-Mulk us-Saudi (King of the Saudi Kingdom) was behind this.

Anyhow, the crux of the matter remains. The Haj is always going to revive new issues, or even make one aware of existing issues. I had gone through a whole misspent life not knowing that there was an issue about whether or not EidulAzha had anything to do with the Haj. Look, I always thought it had. But it seems it doesn’t, but whether or not it does, there is a debate, one which I had never heard of, let alone been affected by it. And it has practical implications: is one supposed to sacrifice at home, or just at Makkah. Does the post-Haj sacrifice cover the Eid?

It comes back to the Caliphate issue I suppose. The Haj is a religious duty, but the Eids are not. They are divinely instituted, and the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) gave much detail about their practice. In short, the Eids are national days. Eid-ul-Fitr celebrates the revelation of the Quran, as well as the end of Ramadan; Eid-ul-Azha commemorates the Abrahamic sacrifice. The Haj too is linked to the Abrahamic Sacrifice, but is a separate event and covers more than the Sacrifice, but the whole sojourn of Abraham in Makkah.

The essence of the Hajj is to be in the field of Arafa on a certain day. A sermon is preached, but not hearing it is no big deal. And how are you supposed to spend the day? By praying. So the Almighty calls the believer all that way, only to have him pray to him. And this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So if you get it wrong, there is no real comeback, as there is with the recitation of faith (which can be repeated), or prayer, fasting or the poor rate (all of which come around again). If one performs Hajj after the first, it will be supererogatory. I only hope that my Haj has been accepted. And that the prayers I offered for all you readers are also accepted. And I wish you a happy Eid.