Millions of devout Muslims recently performed Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The journey to the House of God during specified days in this month of Zil Haj, the 12th month in the Islamic lunar calendar is an essential pillar of Islam. Those who can afford are commanded to go at least once in a lifetime. Seeking inner meaning of the pilgrimage, Sufis developed a parallel between the esoteric and literal aspects of Haj. Imam Junaid, the famous mystic and teacher would ask his disciples if they had stripped themselves of human attributes as they did their clothes, while putting on the prescribed pilgrim wear. He questioned if they had departed from sin as they departed for Haj.
Sufis see the sacrifice of the animal at Haj as the slaying of the pleasures of the lower self. Haj rituals include a symbolic stoning of the devil on a prescribed wall of stone. Sufis see this as throwing away one’s selfish and evil thoughts away forever. The tenth century Sufi Muhammad bin Fazl wondered why people wander searching God’s house and not witness Him within themselves. He said while Haj came once a year, one could experience God every day in one’s own heart. Of Kaaba, the name of the black cube, the house of Allah in Mecca, the mystic woman Rabia of Basra would say, “I seek not the Kaaba, but its owner. I have no use of the Kaaba”.
An early Sufi scholar, Qushayri wrote, “Kaaba is a house made from stone but it is connected with eternity. Those who look at it as an object will stand separated. Those who look at it through eye of association will receive the communion. The House of God is of stone and man is a fistful of dust. Both are related to each other. It is the spirit and yearning for communion that is significant. If not, it is the clay in the body human body meeting stone. Do not place this House in your heart that was made for you, but rather empty your inner heart empty to receive the Friend”. My favourite Sufi story of Haj is of the Persian Sufi Bayazid Bastami. Once on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Bayazid encountered a poor man who asked how much many he had on him.
The Persian admitted to having two hundred dhirams for his journey. The man requested Bayazid to give him the money to save his children from dying of hunger and starvation. He suggested that Bayazid go around him seven times instead of the Kaaba. Bayazid gave him all the money and circled around the man. After completing the seventh circle, Bayazid experienced Divine Light in his heart and went into a state of spiritual ecstasy. He proclaimed, “Subhani, Glory to Me. How great is My Majesty”. It is said that at that moment, Bayazid ceased to exist and all that existed was God. This led to accusations of heresy being hurled at Bayazid and he was thrown out of the city of Bistam....