Many people – and especially those living in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – are preparing to travel to Mecca to perform Pilgrimage to the House of Allah. For a number of them, it will be a second, third, or fourth Pilgrimage.
The Pilgrimage is an obligation upon every Muslim who is capable of undertaking it when the conditions of it being obligatory are all met. This is a point of consensus (ijmâ`) among Muslims. Indeed, the Pilgrimage is one of the five pillars upon which Islam is built. To deny the obligatory nature of the Pilgrimage is tantamount to unbelief.
We also know that performing voluntary worship is something good. Allah says: “And whoever does good of his own accord, indeed Allah is Thankful, All-Knowing.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 158]
However, among the voluntary acts that we carry out are those that confer all of their benefits upon the individual who carries them out, such as our voluntary prayers and fasts. In most cases, carrying out these voluntary acts of worship poses no harm or inconvenience to others, just like it provides them with no direct benefit.
Other voluntary acts of worship provide benefits for people besides those who perform them, like spending in charity and doing good deeds for people. Usually, with this kind of voluntary act, the more such deeds are performed the better it is for the worshipper and for others. There is a saying that goes: “There is no excess in doing good.” However, this is not correct all of the time.
We see that the when Sa`d b. Abî Waqqâs bequeathed all of his wealth, the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded him to retain some of it for himself, and that his doing so would be better for him.
We also have where Ka`b b. Mâlik said: “O Prophet of Allah! As part of my penance, I will not speak except a true word and rid myself of all my wealth by giving it away in charity to Allah and His Messenger.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “Retain some of your wealth for yourself. That will be better for you.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]
Then there is a third type of voluntary worship that implicates others besides the one offering it, because of limited space and other factors. The Pilgrimage is one of these. The grounds in which the Pilgrimage is performed are limited in space and can accommodate only so many people. Likewise, there is a specific time of year when the Pilgrimage is to be carried out. The Pilgrimage can neither be performed a bit early nor postponed.
Anyone who exhibits even a little probity will realize that if just 1% of the Muslims who have never performed the Pilgrimage were to do so in a single year, it would mean no less than 12 million people. They would never find the room to stand. Most of them would end up missing out on the Pilgrimage for that reason alone. At the same time, their crushing numbers would cause many of them to injure each other. This is why only one-tenth of one percent of the world’s Muslims is permitted to perform the Pilgrimage in a given year. At this rate, it would take Indonesia’s 200 million Muslims presently alive 1000 years to all perform the Pilgrimage. This, of course, is a purely hypothetical situation.
We must also consider the difficulties that presently result from the extreme crowding, on account of which every year many people lose the spiritual meaning and the sacredness of the Pilgrimage in all the shouting, shoving, wrangling, and fighting. Annually, we see hundreds who die trampled under the feet of their fellow Pilgrims, though all of them are engaged in one of their obligatory rites of worship. This is a deeply grievous situation.
We will take it as a given that the reason people undertake the Pilgrimage is on account of their faith. Therefore, we can ask how those who live nearby to the sacred precincts can be heedless of the difficulties they impose upon their brethren by performing the Pilgrimage year after year, or even, for that matter, every second year. Do they not consider their brethren who are coming from far away to fulfill their religious obligations and not merely some voluntary act of devotion? Among those people are the elderly, the infirm, the destitute, and frail women. Do they not pay any heed to the sufferings of such people? Is their habit of performing pilgrimage every year more important to them?
In order to perform the Pilgrimage more often, some people resort to forging documents, telling lies, borrowing money, and leaving their families with needs. For others, the Pilgrimage becomes a welcomed vacation trip, to taken annual with a group of known friends.
The agencies responsible for the Pilgrimage do not permit a person to participate in it more often than once every five years. This policy is taken from a resolution passed by the Council of Scholars in Saudi Arabia. This resolution was passes in order to facilitate the management of the Pilgrimage and give relief to the people around the world who wish to perform it.
There is a hadîth – though its authenticity is disputed – whereby the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “Indeed a servant whose body is healthy and whose means of livelihood are ample, if he goes five years without going forth for the Pilgrimage, then he has been denied (blessings).” [Mu`jam al-Tabarânî, Musnad Abî Ya`lâ, Sunan al-Bayhaqî, and Sahîh Ibn Hibbân] This hadîth has been declared as weak by a number of scholars.
If the person’s own health and comfort of means are to be taken into consideration, then this means by implication that the rights and needs of others must also be considered. These others include the person’s dependents as well as the person’s fellow pilgrims who, like himself, wish to perform the Pilgrimage.
Many people rationalize their decision to perform the Pilgrimage on a frequent basis by saying: “What harm could my presence pose? I’m just one person among millions. How would my absence make any difference?”
This is faulty logic. It is such thinking that causes people to lose sight of their common human concerns and their individual responsibilities towards one another. If everybody thought and acted in this way, there would be dire consequences.
If, on the other hand, everyone who reads these words and intended to offer a voluntary Pilgrimage instead donated the cost of his voluntary Pilgrimage in charity – and likewise offered up in charity the space that his body would have occupied in Mecca during the Pilgrimage – this would contribute considerably to lessening the congestion in the sacred precincts. It would make things easier for the pilgrims and lessen the confusion and the deaths that result from the crowding.
Charity of the value of the Pilgrimage is better in these times and under present circumstances. People are in need of money these days. There are natural disasters, famines, and decades-long wars bringing devastation to many people. These people truly need to be helped.
Ahmad b. Hanbal was once asked: “Is it better for a person to perform a voluntary Pilgrimage or cement tiers of kinship?”
Ahmad replied: “If thosekinfolk are in need, I prefer that he cements the ties of kinship.” [quoted by: Ibn Muflih, al-Furû` (2/497)]
Ahmad also said: “One of you says ‘I’ll perform the Pilgrimage. I’ll perform the Pilgrimage.’ But he has already done so! Rather, cement ties of kinship, or give charity to someone in dire need, or do some good for your neighbor.” [Kitâb al-Zuhd]