“Hence (O, Muhammad,) proclaim those unto all people the (duty of) pilgrimage: they will come unto thee on foot and on every (kind) of fast mount, coming from every far-away point (on earth), so that they experience much that shall be of benefit to them, and that they, might extol the name of God on the days appointed… Holy Qur’an, 22: 27-28.

If we may consider the performance of prayers (salat) as a daily training for self-discipline, and the practice of fasting (siyam) as an annual training for self-control, the journey and rituals of pilgrimage (Hajj) may be considered as a huge international congregation for teaching universalism. Muslims from all over the world are invited to gather at Makkah for a number of days in the month of Dhul al Hijjah of the Islamic calendar, in order to fulfil certain duties and perform special rites during that period. The huge masses from all over the world start the rites of Hajj after circumambulating the Kaaba, the ancient temple which was built by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), by staying for several days in Mina: a hard rocky area where cooperation is essential for the millions who have to live together in such a limited space. The Saudi government has moved huge rocky hills by modern technology to allow some more space for the increasing millions of those who come yearly for Hajj.

All the practitioners of Hajj have to gather and camp at a particular place – the plains of Arafat – on the ninth of Dhul al Hijjah from the early morning to the afternoon, worshipping God. During the journey to Saudi Arabia, and the stay in Makkah, Mina and Arafat, Muslims from different places of a country, and from different countries of the world mingle in travel, accommodation and worship. Most of the pilgrims who also visit the mosque of the Prophet in Madinah, have greater opportunity for social contact. It is usual that every pilgrim returns home with a list of addresses of new friends from all over the world including places in his own country that he has never been to in the past or is unlikely to visit in the future.

During the practice of this religious duty various ethnic, linguistic and class barriers would melt bringing about unparalleled unity and cohesion. Putting on an unsewn simple dress (ihram), a pilgrim emphasizes that his essential identity in this international congregation is that of a Muslim, or of a worshipper of God. Brotherly relations among all pilgrims are required to be strictly maintained by everyone, regardless of old hostilities between individuals, families, clans or countries: “… and whoever undertakes the pilgrimage should abstain from lewd speech, from all wicked conduct (from any violation of the sacredness of the occasion and the place) and from quarrelling; and whatever good you may do God is aware of it … verily the best of all provisions is God consciousness …” Holy Qur’an, 2: 197.

The obligation to maintain peace during the pilgrimage covers the birds and animals: “… you are not allowed to hunt while you are in a state of pilgrimage … O you who have attained to faith, offend not against the symbols (of obedience) set up by God nor against the sacred month (of pilgrimage) …” Holy Qur’an, 5:1-2.

One can imagine how this religious duty contributed to the maintenance of peace and universalism during those times when means of transport were few and bloody conflicts between different tribes and lands were frequent. Even after the partition of the Caliphate lands among different Muslim ruling dynasties. Muslims have never ceased to feel the unity of the community of the faithful (Umma), a feeling ever nourished by the practice of the pilgrimage.

In the past, Hajj as a nucleus of universalism became a nucleus of universal scientific activities. The journey to Makkah for pilgrimage represented a main point in the plans of Muslim students, scholars, travellers and geographers. After the rites of Hajj, students and scholars prolonged their stay in Makkah and Madinah for some time to learn from the prominent Ulama (Islamic scholars) of the two sacred mosques especially in the field of Hadith (the Prophet’s traditions).

The comprehensive description of the various aspects of the two cities at different times represented a characteristic part of the works of the Muslim travellers and geographers like al-Maqdisi (wrote in 375 AH/985 CE), al Abdari (d 688 Ah/1289 CE), Ibn Jubair (around 579AH/1183 CE) and Ibn Batuta (d 771 AH/1369 CE).

Several chapters were devoted specifically to the description of Makkah and other holy places by Al-Azraqi (died in the first quarter of the third century (d 611 AH/ninth century CE) and al-Harawi (d 611 AH/1183 CE). The memories of Hajj have inspired in modern times quite an impressive literature in many languages. The road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad in English, and At the Place of Revelation (fi Manzil al-Wahy) by Muhammad Hussein Haykal in Arabic are chief examples of this genre.

During the Hajj, the world seems to become smaller, Muslims come from all over the world and have an open opportunity to discuss their religion, their social life and their problems. Such are the teachings on the universalism of Islam that Muslims, particularly from the Muslim Countries, are keen to learn more about the minorities.

We have moreover, to consider the economic activities which may be pursued during the pilgrimage. A universal platform for the exchange of information and opinions is provided by Hajj for the Muslim rulers and the Muslim peoples. These by-products of the religious practice represent for the Muslim Umma motivation for development in various fields, something which was pointed out in the Quranic verse about the goals of Hajj, which first mentions “experiencing much that shall be of benefit to them” and then adds “extolling the name of God on the days appointed (for Hajj).”

If Muslims have such a practice of peace and universalism every year, how could the narrow clannish mentality and conflicts prevail among the Umma? It is an accumulated outcome of the colonial divisions followed by a sustained chauvinism resulting in modern nationalistic egoism. Such a narrow mentality and ill feeling have developed immensely under the overwhelming circumstances of poverty and ignorance of the Muslim peoples. Till a few decades ago Hajj was performed by a limited number of people who could afford the costs of the journey and bear its difficulties. Most of the pilgrims were old people.

Now, millions of Muslims, among whom a lot are young, come for pilgrimage after increasingly better facilities have been recently provided and continue to be improved. Can we hope that Muslims would be inspired by Hajj to establish peace and Universalism and resume the civilizing message of Islam as represented in Hajj: “… coming from every far-away point (on earth), so that they might experience much that shall be of benefit to them, and that they might extol the name of God on the days appointed …”