This verse speaks about the Pilgrimage, and act of worship. It also speaks about the benefits that the worshippers will reap and “see for themselves.”
This approach is commonly employed in the Qur’ân when it prescribes acts of worship for believers to perform. Many of the verses in the Qur'ân that stipulate prescribed acts of worship also mention the intent behind them and the benefits to be received from performing them. By reminding us of the underlying purpose for our worship, the Qur’ân helps us to counteract the natural human tendencies of forgetfulness and negligence that can compromise our devotions.
As time draws on, hearts harden and acts of worship can become shallow rituals for some believers, mere procedures and rote habits, activities for which they must go through the motions. Their devotions cease to affect their hearts at all. These people often turn to nitpicking over minor details of outward performance. Then, after completely forgetting the purpose of worship and becoming fully engrossed in superficialities, they might even start adding extraneous and false details to their worship of their own manufacture. This affliction had beset the followers of the scriptures of the past.
Anyone who realizes this can see why the Qur'ân repeatedly mentions the purpose behind the acts of worship that it prescribes.
With respect to prayer, we find in the Qur'ân: "…and establish prayer, for prayer restrains from shameful and evil deeds…" [Sûrah al-`Ankabût: 45] Here, the Qur'ân emphasizes how prayer affects a person's behavior and character.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) emphasized that alms must be taken from the wealth of the believers in order to purify them and to cleanse their hearts. Giving alms had also been a cause for his invoking Allah's grace upon them. Whenever a group of people came with their Zakâh, he would say: "O Allah! Bestow your grace upon them."
When the details of fasting are discussed in the Qur'ân, the wisdom behind performing this act of worship is given. Allah says: "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those before you, that perhaps you might learn piety and self-restraint." [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 183]
With respect to the sacrificial animals offered during the pilgrimage, Allah says: "It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches him." [Sûrah al-Hajj: 37]
The whole purpose behind the pilgrimage itself is to "…celebrate the name of Allah…" [Sûrah al-Hajj: 28]
This is also why Â'ishah said: "The circuits walked around the House and between Mount Safâ and Mount Marwah and the stoning of the Jamrahs is only to establish the remembrance of Allah." [Sunan al-Dârimî (1780)]
We must ask ourselves: when a believer makes his circuits around the House, is he cognizant of this noble meaning, or is he overcome with a feeling of competitiveness, pushing and shoving through the crowd of pilgrims and edging his way through them with his shoulders as if he is on some kind of racetrack?
Or does he remember why he is there and complete his rites keeping his worship intact, patiently being pushed and shoved by the crowds, taking hours to move the distance that would normally be traversed in minutes? When the Prophet (peace be upon him) departed from the plain of `Arafah, he said: "Tranquility, tranquility; for righteousness is not attained through haste."
Attaining righteousness is the purpose of the pilgrimage, and this cannot be achieved by rushing about. It requires composure and humility. Does the pilgrim keep this in mind when he is stoning the Jamrahs, when no doubt he is aware of the severity of the event and how people often get trampled trying to perform this rite?
These collective acts of worship are a way that Allah gives us to develop our character, wherein we must fulfill our duties correctly and with full sincerity while respecting the rights of others. We must show deference to the elderly and mercy to the young. We must show compassion for strangers and those who are weak, and even those who are ignorant. Allah says: "The months of the pilgrimage are well known. If anyone undertakes that duty therein, then let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the pilgrimage." [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 197]
The pilgrimage requires a degree of detachment from worldly pursuits and worldly needs. The pilgrim must abstain from all carnal pleasures, avoiding sex and even sexual play with his wife. Such activities are forbidden during the pilgrimage. Even conversation with the opposite sex of the kind that stirs up one's passions is forbidden during the pilgrimage.
The wickedness mentioned in this verse is any disobedience to Allah, and it is most emphatically prohibited for the pilgrim. For this reason, the great jurist al-Awzâ`î ruled that anyone who so much as says a bad word to another during the pilgrimage has to pay an expiation. Though al-`Awzâ`îs opinion is weak, sinful behavior definitely violates the sanctity of the pilgrimage and of the sacred mosque, not to mention its being forbidden in and of itself.
As for wrangling, in the context of this verse it means either arguing on false pretenses or on the basis unabashed personal interests with complete disregard for the truth. The great jurist, al-Shâfi`î, used to say: "I see my opinion as correct, but I hold out the possibility that it might be wrong. Likewise, I see the opposing opinion of someone else as wrong, but I hold out the possibility that it is correct." Another person put it most eloquently: "It is sufficient to say: 'Our opinion is likely wrong, but it just may be true!'" It is better for a person to swallow his anger than get into a heavy argument with his companion, an argument which neither brings them closer to Paradise or further from Hell, nor results in any enlightenment for anyone.
Everything that Allah as decreed as part of the pilgrimage, or any other act of worship for that matter, has a benefit for the worshipper in this world and in the Hereafter.
"So that they may witness the benefits for themselves…" [Sûrah al-Hajj: 28]
These benefits include the rewards of the Hereafter as well as benefits from trade before and after the pilgrimage, as mentioned by a number of commentators on the Qur'ân.
Al-Tabarî quotes from Mujâhid that the benefits include: "…commerce and what Allah is pleased with from the blessings of this world and the Hereafter." Then al-Tabarî observes: "What he means is that they will see the benefits from the deeds they do that please Allah and from commerce. This is because Allah has made the benefits general for all of those who are present during the days of the pilgrimage. The benefits that come to Mecca during these days are both worldly and spiritual. Neither reason nor revelation excludes anything from this general meaning."
Allah has no need for our worship. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) encountered a man who said he had made an oath to embark on the pilgrimage on foot, he commented: "Allah is in no need of this man punishing himself." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1732) and Sahîh Muslim (3100)]
When Allah mentions the sacrificial animals, He says: "It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches him." [Sûrah al-Hajj: 37]
It can be most startling to see how many pious Muslims are completely oblivious to the values and objectives of the pilgrimage and of the effects it should have on a person's soul. The pilgrimage should bring about positive changes in a person's life and a person's behavior. If scholars were asked about these matters as much as they were asked about the details of how to perform the pilgrimage, it would be for the better.
The pilgrimage will come again this year while the West continues to tighten the noose around the Muslim world and continues to deliberate on what to do after Afghanistan, all the while strengthening its position with its broad, far-reaching allegiances. The Muslims at the same time will remain oblivious to all of this, completely engrossed in their little, personal squabbles and disagreements. It is as if we feel we must achieve some sort of victory over each other when we feel incapable of confronting our enemies.
The pilgrimage will come again while the wave of globalization continues on its relentless path, first engulfing the world economy, then its cultures, the media, and politics, employing international organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization to do so.
The pilgrimage is a convention for worship. It is also a convention for commerce and for politics. I do not mean by politics here a narrow concept that divides people into factions, but a broad understanding of Islamic political ideals that can put the Muslims' interests in order and chart our course through the confusing tempest of the modern world in which we live.
O Allah! Bless your worshippers with insight. Enlighten them about their devotions. Bless them with the benefits that you have set down for them. Save them from their selfishness and their vain desires. Let them feel the joy of worshipping You, obeying you, and fulfilling the intent of Your commands.
And praise be to Allah, the Lord of All the Worlds.