Since the advent of Islam, till a few decades before today, traveling to perform hajj and staying there was extremely difficult. There was a lot I was told about hajj before I performed mine for the first time in my life.

I was told that it was physically very tasking; that it involved practicing and displaying a tremendous amount of patience; that it was filled with hardship and fatigue.

On a more positive note, I was also inspired by hearing several amazing hajj stories describing the spiritual epiphanies and incidents of selfless helpfulness that pilgrims encountered time and again during their sojourn in Saudi Arabia.

After performing my own hajj in 2006, I came to realize that many people come away only with memories of the physical rites and rituals of the journey, without having grasped the moral lessons and spiritual discipline that it imparts to the pilgrims.

Consequently, I believe that the intentions that pilgrims harbor before they embark on hajj and the perception they have of the journey before he or she commences it, are the key factors that influence what inspiration and guidance they will bring away from it inside their hearts and souls, once the 5-day set of rituals is over and they are back home.

The sacred journey of hajj is an extremely fulfilling one that imparts a pilgrim lifelong lessons and poignant memories, the effect of which stay in their lives long after the echo of “labaik allahumma labaik” has faded from their ears.

Who Goes for Hajj?

In order to better understand the solutions to problems faced by the Ummah that are offered by the annual pilgrimage in Islam, we can first talk upon whom it is obligatory to perform in the first place:

{Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah,- those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures.} (Al-Imran 3:97)

The Arabic words in the above verse of the Quran, which are translated as, “those who can afford the journey”, indicate that hajj is only obligatory upon those Muslims who can financially afford the journey, and who are physically able to do it. That is, health-wise, they are strong and able to travel to Arabia and perform all its rites. It is also obligatory only once in a lifetime.

This conditional obligation of hajj automatically absolves the very young, poor, ill, old and weak Muslims of the Ummah from performing it.

Hajj: Economic Empowerment for Entrepreneurs

Every year, as the months in which pilgrims begin their journey of hajj arrive in the lunar calendar, the physically healthy and financially better-off Muslims begin to arrive in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

Most of the millions of Muslims who gather in the cities of Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah for this purpose, comprise of the able-bodied and well-off among the global Ummah. This automatically offers tremendous opportunities for local business men and traders, who customarily witness an upsurge in their sales during hajj season.

For this reason, God has allowed a pilgrim to continue doing trade or business during his or her hajj journey: (2:198)

Since the advent of Islam, till a few decades before today, traveling to perform hajj and staying there was extremely difficult. The weather was extremely hot and the desert conditions very arid. Hajj left many pilgrims weak and ill, as they traveled upon camels, horses, buses and boats to reach the sacred land of Al-Hijaz for hajj. Death tolls were higher. Air conditioning was unheard of!

That is not so today. Air conditioned, luxurious accommodations, and faster, more comfortable means of transport with state-of-the-art facilities and amenities have, by and large, eliminated the extreme rigors of hajj travel, and made the performance of the rites of pilgrimage much, much easier than it has ever been for pilgrims in the centuries bygone. Even the mounts of As-Safa and Al-Marwah and the distance between them, are now indoors and air-conditioned, covered from above and smoothly marbled underneath the feet.

The regular expansions of the sacred Masjid Al-Haram, and the tent-laden plains of Mina and Arafah, in addition to the renovations of bridges and walkways around the three jamrat; the construction of bigger and more modern hotels, toilets, and healthcare services; and the provision of luxurious buses and train systems for transporting pilgrims from the various sites, have allowed hajj to become much easier, safer and faster for pilgrims.

The direct consequence of this has been that any average Muslim today can easily perform more than one hajj during their lives. This has led to increasing crowds of pilgrims every year.

This is exactly what is now happening, in the last three decades: an increasing number of pilgrims are coming for hajj, and bringing with them money to spend. As a result, more businesses in the travel and tourism industry, such as hoteliers, product sellers, gold merchants, transport providers, restaurant owners, and food vendors, are finding opportunities to earn halal profits through trade during the hajj season.

The construction industry has especially experienced a constantly growing surge in building projects because of the growing need to comfortably accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims who descend upon the holy sites in Saudi Arabia for hajj every year.

Furthermore, the coming together of pilgrims from around the world means that more foreign exchange is earned when they convert their money to local currency in order to make payments for goods and services. Hence, the local currency and economy gets a consistent boost when millions of it is bought in other currencies by the pilgrims on an annual basis. This gives a chance to local foreign exchange merchants to earn profits perennially, but more so in the hajj season.

Hajj: Social Training in Tolerance, Compassion, Empathy and Patience

Sharing bedrooms with several other people during hotel stays. Praying next to a different Muslim from around the world in every prayer. Having to share your blanket, pillow or medicine kit with another pilgrim in Mina, Arafah or Muzdalifah. Having to use toilets that are also used by hundreds of others. Camping in tents on hard asphalt under the open sky…

Hajj imparts tough lessons in humility, tolerance, and compassion, because it forces a person to give up their airs and all aspects of elitism viz. “high maintenance” behavior, and spend five days living a lifestyle that is at par with that of the common man, whether you like it or not.

Since wrangling and arguing is disallowed in the state of ihram, no matter how much pilgrims might feel their patience tested, they cannot lose their temper or snap at a fellow pilgrim, e.g. others might use your shoes without your permission, or disturb your deep sleep by loudly banging the door, or snore so loudly that you cannot sleep in the first place.

Someone might insensitively step on your shoulder to get ahead in the rows of the masjid as you wait for prayer. Your baggage and/or money might get stolen or lost during the journey, which can cause you to lose your peace of mind. You might fall severely sick (a bad cough is the classic hajj ailment), or get lost in the crowds, isolated for days from your hajj group without any belongings,- all these things can test your patience to its limit.

Some of these situations happen with most pilgrims on a day-to-day basis during hajj, yet God doesn’t allow them to fight, argue or insult another pilgrim, no matter what hardship or difficulty they might encounter: (2:197)

Clothed in the same two pieces of cloth whilst traveling from one site to another, with no personal bedroom or clean toilet and hardly any privacy; having to eat simple food whilst sitting on sidewalks or stone floors; having to travel whilst standing in buses or sitting squashed inside cars that are cramped with other pilgrims; and having to perform ablution with a single bottle of water that is shared with other pilgrims, forces a Muslim to observe extremely high levels of tolerance and patience with their ethnically diverse and innumerable brethren in faith throughout the hajj journey.

The result of this once-in-a-lifetime training in social empathy and fortitude, is that a Muslim learns to appreciate the innumerable blessings and freedoms that he or she possesses back home, and to share every aspect of their self and their personal ‘space’ with people who are hitherto strangers; most of whom he will probably never even see again for the rest of his life!

The grueling lessons in social forbearance taught by hajj truly last a lifetime.

Hajj: A Political “Wakeup Call”

It is no secret that the Muslim Ummah has been in political shambles since many years, on a global scale. Military coups, peaceful protests turned violent, sit-ins, and civil wars in Muslim-majority areas are making regular, painful and heart-rending news headlines across the world.

At the same time, the Muslim-majority areas of the world are witnessing increasing sectarian violence, bloodshed and political dissension. Many a leader in these countries is hated and called for to step down almost as soon as he occupies his post after getting elected.

Political instability within the Muslim Ummah stems from minor differences of ideology and belief that turn into violent confrontations and killings.

These differences, combined with the absence of a smoothly functional law enforcement and judicial system which is strictly in accordance with the laws and commandments laid down by God in the Quran, and a deviation from living individual and communal life in strict obedience to the commands of Islam, have resulted in the chaotic political instability and discord that is now so rampant among Muslims.

Every year, God calls the global Muslim Ummah to repent and turn back to him, via the call of hajj that was originally proclaimed by our father, Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him): (22:27)

How does hajj help the political situation of the Muslim Ummah? If anything, it allows and enables the political leaders who are performing hajj to take a break from their hectic and taxing roles in government; to disconnect temporarily from their worldly duties and humble themselves before God through exclusive worship. Such a spiritual ‘breather’ allows them to take a look at the bigger picture and keep their Hereafter in mind when returning to their posts of ruling over the masses, with fairness and justice.

Secondly, during hajj, all pilgrims are equal in the sight of God, especially on the day of Arafah, when they all come together at one point, at the same time, to discharge their most important hajj rite, and beg God for forgiveness, standing disheveled and covered with dust in just two pieces of cloth.

No matter how many assistants, body guards, protocols, mansions and luxury vehicles a political leader might have at his service back home, when he is in Arafah, he is no different from the rest of the Muslims there, equal in submission and humility before God.


The annual Islamic pilgrimage offers holistic solutions to the individual and communal problems faced by Muslims, much more than one article can enumerate or describe. For example, the animals that are sacrificed by Muslims all over the world during hajj season, feed innumerable hungry people for days on end, long after the hajj is over.

For those of us who have not yet undertaken this spiritually rejuvenating journey, they should strive to go as soon as they are financially able to, no matter what their expenses and liabilities back home.

They will learn firsthand how many doors God opens via their hajj, if it is done sincerely and accepted by Him, allowing blessings and ease to flow in and stay.

By Sadaf Farooqi