Haj is a spiritual journey that every individual pilgrim undertakes which ultimately merges into the journey of the masses. It is the coming together of every nation that makes it so special. However, when one looks around at the site of returning Hajis, it is extremely worrisome to note that there is a total loss of its true spiritual meaning and essence manifested in many disgusting ways. The spirituality of the pilgrimage is being ruined by the rich who have converted it into a materialistic ritual, a showground to display their wealth and nobility.

The first thought which comes to one’s mind before planning a journey to the holy land relates to the selection of the group which can provide maximum comfort at whatever cost. Hence, five star packages are the in thing. If you are less fortunate and opt for the government sponsored travel packages, you are looked at as being someone very inferior, low class scum.

Once, a top of the line Haj travel package is selected, the next step involves getting hold of other people who belong to the same financial bracket. This begins with convincing others that this is a religious obligation which every Muslim has to fulfill before he/she dies. Using this religious slogan ensures that one’s Haj is converted into a “vacation” where the families will get an opportunity to travel together, stay & eat and have lots of quality/leisure time after fulfilling the daily religious obligations. Mixing religion with pleasure ensures nirvana in this life and hereafter. Not a bad deal!

Thanks to the “development” being carried out at the Holy land by the guardians of our faith, shopping has become one of the major attractions. Forget about buying the dates (khajoor) or “Aabe Zam Zam “, for both are available within one’s country of origin at much more reasonable rates. The real buying however relates to gold bars or classy fabrics which are not available in the country at an economical rate. The truckloads of baggage accompanying the Hajis at the arrival desk at the airports across the country is an ample proof. Ask any customs official.

The real drama (read tragedy) however starts with the return of these blessed souls. Once back, they have to be invited by family and friends to shower them with gifts and parties. The more the number of parties, the more pious the returned soul feels. Just wonder why a party is not given to the undersigned after every prayer for if the logic is to bestow greetings in this vulgar way for fulfilling a religious obligation (farz), then why not to extend it to other “faraiz” we fulfill every day. Once these initial functions are over, the Hajis now have to pay back in the same spirit. So everyone who had invited them has to be catered for to return the favor. Every one attending these parties will of course have to bring in some gifts which runs into millions.

During one of these parties, I had the misfortune to ask about the Haj experience from a friend. Instead of touching the spiritual side of it, he narrated me the dishes served at the breakfast and lunch buffet in addition to the number of cable channels available in the five star hotel rooms. How much lower one can sink?

On another point in time, observed a lady asking the other about the travel package she booked. As the other lady replied that it was around five lac rupees per person, she got up and shifted to a group which went for packages above rupees one million. It will be a great disservice not to mention about the flashy dresses, designer shoes and bags, with few diamonds here and there flashed to ensure their visibility to all. Our misfortunes at every level are countless.  

Another common attribute witnessed among the hajis is the induction of religious arrogance by considering all the believers who are not fortunate enough to embark on this journey as people with less faith. This religious arrogance is manifested in many pathetic ways through endless lectures on morality or the lack of it. Isn’t Allah going to be the Judge of each and every human being? As Quran says, “God is the ONLY one who can judge humans“(46:9) Why be judgmental then?

In essence, the real connection and bonding through this ‘Haj Vacation” is between people with whom one can rub shoulders with pride. No connection whatsoever with the creator. What is lost in this manifestation of cosmetic exercises is the real lesson what Allah wanted to convey. It is all about becoming more humble, opting for a simpler life and caring and helping the less fortunate around. Unless and until that sense doesn’t come to one’s mind, the entire exercise of performing ones religious obligations will continue to remain a ritual carrying no spiritual value.

n    The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a social activist. He has authored two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living in the Grave and several research papers.The writer prefers to avoid human interaction and finds peace & happiness being alone, in silence with his own self.