A Pilgrimage of the Mind and Heart

Great Blue Heron (photo by author)

The Hajj pilgrimage is described in Surat Al-Baqara 2:196-203, as well as in Surat Al-Hajj (22:25-38) and elsewhere. This blog discussed it here in reference to animal sacrifice and the narrative of Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice; and here regarding the essential rites of equality, focusing on the current regime that exerts control over and provides services such as provisions for the Hajj. Here we shall show how the Hajj is a pilgrimage of the mind and heart, taking a different approach.

This post examines the structure of 2:196-203 (as a modified ring composition) to reveal two interesting things. First, that the central purpose of the Hajj is to achieve Allah’s forgiveness and acceptance. Second, as a “gathering” of people, its role as an enactment of the Day when Allah the Exalted gathers all people for Judgment is revealed. As such, the Hajj is like a “dress rehearsal”, except that the “dress” exemplifies equality which in turn reflects Allah’s impeccable balance and justice. It also teaches us the values of resistance/ enmity to Satanic influence, and patience as well as trust in Allah’s guidance. While reminding ourselves of Abraham’s sacrifice, we must literally sacrifice an animal whose meat is distributed to the needy. What we are really “sacrificing” here symbolically is our own self-interest, one could say “ego,” substituting an animal for our very selves or our future (as Ismail was to Abraham his future) in the Way of Allah. 

Ayat interspersed throughout this passage remind us of taqwa (both “mindfulness” and “God-fearing”) as what we need most in the Hajj and on Judgment Day. In that sense, it is a pilgrimage of the mind and heart, too.

Analysis of Al-Baqarah 2:196-203


This is a modified ring composition. The letters prior to the central section D in pink are written without the prime/ apostrophe (‘) symbol and those after are written with it. 

A and A’ (yellow) (6 sections) form the basic frame and also function as a repeating reminder to be mindful of Allah, that  the Hajj pilgrimage is for God, and to Him is our ultimate destination. 

B and B’ (bluegreen) elucidate instructions re the Hajj. 

C1 and C2 (orange/ green) form a contrasting pair. C1 (orange) represents what not to do; C2 (green) represents what we should do. Note there are two of these pairs, one before (without ‘) and one after (with ‘) the central section.

D (pink) is the central section showing the central purpose of the Hajj: to work towards Allah’s forgiveness.  

Note: “Depart/ disperse from where all the people departed/ dispersed” means to leave from the common exit just as one enters from common entrance. This is out of respect for the “restricted mosque”: here the restriction that acknowledges sacredness in one’s behavior is practical recognition of the shared commonality of humanity and it’s therefore forbidden to prefer one human being over another in religion. Which means no special entrances/ exits for preferred or elite persons. No back doors. No secret rites. No preference in religious status. No priesthood. No saints. As long as one is alive, respect for all people and Allah alone is the judge. With the caveat that anyone who makes the pilgrimage to the Kaaba should trust fully that Allah is One (tawheed).

Note: often translated “sacred”, the word haram most closely refers to “restricted” as in another translation. However the word “sacred” as it refers to places of worship conveys the two meanings (revered/ sanctified, and restricted) more closely in English, where the two meanings are not contained in a single word. Haram also means forbidden. “Sacred” in English doesn’t necessarily mean forbidden at all; thus the combined meaning in Arabic has no single English equivalent. 

Looking vertically, we have the following structure:

A “perform/do” Hajj for Allah and “be mindful of Him.”. 

B  sacrifice animal; shave heads; compensation for those who cannot for legitimate reasons

A  reminder 

C 1 restrictions: no sexual approach, wickedness, or baseless arguments; C2 what to do: bring provisions and righteousness 

A  reminder 

D  CENTRAL SECTION/ Aya purpose is to obtain Allah’s forgiveness

A’  reminder

C1’   Bad du’a: asking for blessings in this world only and thus losing Hereafter; 

C2’   Good du’a: ask for blessings in this life snd the Hereafter and ask for protection from hellfire

A’  Reminder 

B’   Final instructions: how to leave 

A’   Final reminder; plus “to Him you will be gathered” shows us that the pilgrimage is in a sense an enactment of what happens in Al-Akhira: we will be gathered, as people gather for Hajj, distinguishing who succeeds in gaining Allah’s forgiveness first, then blessings, as those who bring righteousness, avoid sin, pray for protection from Judgment Day, and the most repeated reminder to be mindful of Allah, which mindfulness includes fear of wrongdoing and fear of His might. 

And thus the Hajj Pilgrimage, as both enactment of being brought before Allah the Exalted with nothing but our deeds, where social status and ethnicity/ nationality/ education/ prestige, etc are irrelevant, and as a journey to Allah seeking His forgiveness and acceptance of our prayers through sacrifice and special rites reinforcing His guidance, becomes, as shown in the repeating yellow ayat shown above, a Pilgrimage of the mind and heart, to develop true taqwa, mindful and reverent, fearing Allah above all else, free of arrogance with true humility, a characteristic of the pure at heart.

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