A couple of nights ago, we received a peculiar telephone call. It was a relative of ours who lives in Iran. The call was strange because aside from the fact that the message it contained was inconsistent with our image of the character of the person, it was also entirely insincere.
She, a cousin of my wife's, and her husband – an otherwise rational, reasonable, very well educated professional, globe trotting, young couple – had called to ask for our “permission” and “blessing” before they headed out to a pilgrimage to Mecca!
Now for those readers who might not per chance be aware, it is a requirement on the would-be pilgrim to Mecca — within realm of practicality – to ask for and receive from everyone they know their blessing (halaali) before they embark on a trip to Mecca.
I felt that this was what she was doing; ensuring that her investment in time and money to go to Mecca was not wasted on a technicality. Now this was peculiar as they were probably the last couple in Iran that I imagined would actually consider such a pilgrimage. They simply are not the type — or so we thought at least. (This in itself is an interesting topic to explore).
What is more interesting however is the inherent insincerity in the very action we are talking about here. She called to ask for our halaali two days before they were due to leave. This implies that passports were in order, tickets were purchased and all the logistics in place before she called. So what if we did not give them our blessing? Would they have cancelled? Would they have considered the trip as haraam which — technically speaking – it would be? I am sure there was no such intention to cancel; hence my accusation of their insincerity. This was merely going through the motions. The spirit of the act was not there.
Being the pain in the neck that I sometimes can be, and as an exercise, I was very much tempted to refuse them my blessing and see how they would react. But I thought better of it, and despite my conscious, I came forth. They went on, secured in the feeling that they had received the blessing of all of us over here clear across the world.
Deep down however, I HAD NOT given them my blessing. Not because they had not observed protocol of first asking for halaali and then proceeding to plan the trip; not because I felt that they were not Mecca going types; not even because I fundamentally disagree with the practice; but for a much more — I think — fundamental reason.
At the time that several thousand of our compatriots are battling homelessness, hunger and disease brought about by the devastating Bam earthquake, NO PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA IS LEGITIMATE, particularly for our fellow Iranians.
Ebaadat bejoz khedmat khalgh neest Be tasbeeh o sajjaade o dalgh neest
(Prayer is not about rosary beads, cloaks and a prayer mat Serving the people; true prayer is that)
I am not sure exactly how many Iranians are planning a Hajj pilgrimage this year. Let us say the figure is 100,000. Let us also assume that it costs on average a mere $3,000 to make the trip. This represents a total outlay of $300 million! This sum almost doubles the TOTAL amount of aid estimated to arrive in and for Bam EVER from all sources. With such a sum we can ensure a future for many thousands of victims of the earthquake. This is true spirituality, this is true “ebaadat”, this is the Hajj of the heart:
Tavaaf e khaaneye del kon ke ka'beh khod sangeest
(Circumambulate the House of the Heart as Ka'bah is but a rock)
Some might say, “but I have already helped the Bam victims”. My question is: How much? I say at the very minimum and in order to give your trip any modicum of legitimacy, you should have contributed an equal amount to the relief cause as you are likely to spend on the trip. But then again, if you have done so and you still have as much money to spend to go and walk around a cubical structure, throw stones at a worn out pillar and have innocent animals killed, why not donate that money too and go to a real Hajj in the heart? I am sure if there is one, this is what god would wish you to do.
This reminds me of the following passage by the famous poet Araaghi:
Beh tavaaf ka'beh raftam beh haram raham nadaadand Keh to dar boroun cheh kardi ke daroon e khaaneh aayee?
(To K'abah I went intent on circumambulation; alas I was denied entry into the domain. “What did you do outside the House of God to deserve being permitted inside?” I was asked to explain.)
So here is my message to all would-be pilgrims to Hajj this year: You do NOT have my blessing as you will not have god's… no, not this year… Your pilgrimage this year is “null and void”. You can not POSSIBLY receive divine blessing when your fellow man is prostrate, hungry and devastated. No, not this year…
Houman Younessi is a professor at a university in New England.