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Islam in Perspective

Haj in pre-Islamic times

Haj and its rites were first ordained by Allah in the time of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him). However, with the passage of time both the form and goal of Haj rites were changed. The process of distortion reached its peak with the introduction of idols to the Kaaba, as was previously mentioned. Many major tribes with their allies and slaves used to come to Makkah and encamp there separately. Competitions in generosity were staged. In order to assert his superiority, the chief of every tribe set up huge cauldrons, slaughtered numerous camels and cooked the flesh which was then freely distributed for the "pilgrims." The sole objective of this extreme generosity was for their name to be exalted in the whole of Arabia and for it to be publicized that this person slaughtered so many camels and gave food to so many people. Singing, drinking, adultery and various kinds of immorality were indulged in, and the thought of God scarcely occurred to anybody.
The religious rites of Tawaf (circling of the Kaaba) was reduced to a circus. Women and men went round and round the Kaaba performing Tawaf stark naked. They said: "We shall go before God in the same condition in which our mothers gave birth to us." Prayer in the Masjid of Ibrahim was accompanied by hand-clapping, whistling and the blowing of horns. The name of God was pronounced in the prayer of intent known as Talbiyah (Labbayka Allahumma Labbayk: "Here I am present, My Lord, I am present.") However, even this expression of reverence was distorted with the following additions: "No one is your partner except one who is permitted by you. You are his master and the master of what he possesses."
Sacrifices were also made in the name of God; however, the blood of the sacrificed animals was poured on the walls of the Kaaba in the belief that Allah demanded flesh and blood. Doing business or working for one's livelihood during the Haj journey were considered unlawful. Others used to give up food and water during Haj and regarded this abstention as part of worship, while others stopped talking from the beginning of Haj until its end.
These distorted Haj rites continued to be practiced for nearly two and a half thousand years. Ultimately, however, the time arrived for granting the Du'a (prayer) of the Prophet Ibrahim, which he had invoked while raising the walls of the Kaaba: "Oh Lord! Raise up in their midst a Messenger from among them who will recite to them your revelations and instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom and who will reform their morals. (Qur'an, 2:129)
Consequently, a man arose from the progeny of Ibrahim whose name was Muhammad ibn Abdullah. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) revived the same genuine and pure religion which was taught by Prophet Ibrahim. In the course of 23 years he (peace be upon him) completed the mission of purifying the Kaaba and establishing Allah's religion as the law of the land, and he again declared the Kaaba as the universal center for worshippers of the one True God.
Along with the revival of Haj, all the deviant and idolatrous customs of the period of ignorance which had become rampant since the time of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) were completely eliminated. All the idols in Kaaba were smashed and removed, and the worshipping of other than Allah that was being done there was stopped. All invented rituals were wiped out and all fairs and carnivals were stopped. Furthermore, it was ordered that Allah's worship should only be carried out in the prescribed manner. Competitions among poets in the exaltations of their forefathers and clansmen's achievements were all stopped. Instead Allah told them: "And when you have completed your rites (of Haj), then remember Allah as you used to remember your fathers, nay with a more vigorous remembrance." (Qur'an, 2:200)
All competitions in generosity which were meant solely for pride and fame were terminated and in their place was revived the system which existed in Ibrahim's day, whereby animals would be slaughtered exclusively in the name of Allah in order that poor pilgrims may be fed during Haj. Allah said: "Eat and drink but do not be excessive. Verily He does not love the wasteful." (Qur'an, 7:31) The practice of spattering the blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of Kaaba and throwing of their flesh there was also stopped. Allah informed them that: "Their flesh and their blood do not reach Allah, but it is the devotion from you that reaches Him." (Qur'an, 22:37)
Circling the Kaaba in a state of nudity was strictly prohibited by the Prophet (peace be upon him) on Allah's command. And Allah further explained: "Say, who has forbidden the adornment (dress) given by Allah which he has bought forth for his servants." (Qur'an, 7:32)
It was also prohibited to start for Haj without taking provision; and Allah said: "You must take provision for the journey because (not to take provision for a journey in the world does not mean taking provision for the Hereafter) the best provision for the Hereafter is piety." (Qur'an, 2:197) It was formerly considered an act of piety not to trade during Haj because it was regarded as being unlawful in this condition to utilize sources of livelihood. This concept was also rejected by Allah who said: "It is no sin for you that you seek the bounty of your Lord (by trading)." (Qur'an, 2:198)
After abolishing all other pre-Islamic customs. Haj was made a model of piety, fear of Allah, purity, simplicity and austerity. When the pilgrims set out from their homes, they were ordered to purify themselves of all worldly pollution, abandon sexual relations with their wives and abstain from filthy language and indecent acts.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said the following about a neat, clean, selfless and sincere Haj: "Whoever performs Haj solely for Allah and in the course of it abstains from sensual and sinful acts, he will return as pure as a new-born child."

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