the Message Continues ... 6/19


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Reflections on Tawaf
by A. Mohammad Saleem

In just about a month, we will be entering the time of Hajj. The time of Hajj is not only a powerful experience for the pilgrims who have the opportunity to go, but a powerful reminder for those of us who cannot. So Inshallah, in this khutbah, and in the next two khutbahs as well, we can remind ourselves of some of the lessons of Hajj. The lessons of Hajj are infinite; they remind us of the essentials of our deen and the purpose of our lives in this world.

Several months ago we reflected, on Surah Al-Asr, and we were reminded of Imam Shafii (may Allah be merciful on him), who said that had Allah (SWT) only revealed Al-Asr, it would have been sufficient guidance for humanity. We were reminded of the tradition related in Tabarani which indicated that some of the companions would not part company until reciting the Surah. In Surah Al-Asr we are given a succinct paradigm of Quranic guidance, and shown a microcosm of the state of humanity.

In Hajj, we have another paradigm, another microcosmic representation of the steps humanity must take to remove itself from the state of loss. The words of Al-Asr come alive; its lessons are seen, heard, and felt by the pilgrim. It is a preview, a dress rehearsal, of our experiences after death on the Day of Judgment. It shows us the criteria and steps for salvation.

From the moment the pilgrim dons the Ihram, the pilgrim returns to the state in which he or she will be resurrected. No possessions, no belongings, nothing of this world. Wal Asr, Innal Insaani lafii khusr. By the time, man is in a state of loss.” Over the thousands of years mankind has lived, the love of this world and its desires put mankind in a state of loss. The
pilgrim rejects this when the Ihram is put on; he or she has understood the first two ayahs of Surah Al-Asr and can now move on to begin to understand and practice---its last verse.

Illalaziina aamanuu.Except those who believe

We can go no further in this Surah, for this phrase, repeated throughout the Qur'an, is what we see demonstrated by the pilgrims in the opening rites of Hajj, namely the Muhrim's arrival at the Kaaba and the ensuing Tawaf.

All of Hajj is a demonstration of one's belief in Allah, but there is perhaps no more profound demonstration of Tawheed, the Oneness of Allah, the Essence of Allah, in the Tawaf. But to reflect on the Tawaf, we must first reflect on the Kaaba itself.

For a believer's entire life, the Kaaba is the center of one's life, it is our Qiblah, it is the center of the world. Yet what is it? Physically, it is a simple structure, a simple cube. And inside this structure? Nothing.


When the Kaaba was perverted by the unbelievers, there were idols inside of course. But when Rasulallah  regained control of Mecca, the first thing he did was destroy the idols and remove them. Shirk was destroyed and rejected.

Now nothing remains in the Kaaba. It is a vacant space, without color, without shape, without physical form. Nothing. Nothing representative of this world, nothing that we can completely understand or perceive in our limited state.

Illalaziina aamanuu Except those who believe, In this vacant space, that we face each day in our prayers, is the essence of Islam. For there is nothing of this world for us to bow down, to worship, to revere.


It is a rejection of shirk, a rejection of this world. The first element of the shahadah, La ilaha, is a negation. In rejecting this world and all that is in it, we turn to that which is beyond this world. And we begin to recognize The Ultimate Reality, beyond physical description or understanding, beyond the physical space-time continuum.

Allah (SWT).

The second element of the shahadah, illal-llah. An affirmation. An affirmation of Tawheed. When we turn towards the Qiblah to make Salah, and when the pilgrim says Bimillahi Wallahu Akbar before beginning Tawaf, we are demonstrating the concept of Tawheed.

When we look at the Kaabah this is what we should remember. As we discussed at the time of Isra and Miraj when we spoke of Bayt ul Maqdis, what is it that makes a holy site holy? Is it the actual physical structure? The bricks, the mortar? No. No, the sanctity of these holy places is not physical. If the Kaabah was completely destroyed, we would still face the same Qiblah. The sanctity is in the symbolism of the events that happened there. The sanctity is in the lessons we take from these places for the purpose of internalizing them to save our nafs and externalizing them in action to save our fellow man. The sanctity is in the path of guidance these sites symbolize. The path that allows human beings to cultivate a spirit that makes us closer to Allah (SWT).

It is not out of ritualism that the Muslim faces the Kaaba or begins his Tawaf. Much of the middle part of Surah Baqara is spent on instructing the ummah to face the new Qiblah of Mecca. Yet, after these instructions, Allah (SWT) says in the same Surah:

It is not birr, (piety, righteousness) that you turn your faces to the East or West. But it is birr that you believe in Allah and the Day of Judgment..

There are rites of Hajj, but not ritualism. They are a means to demonstrate our belief in Allah in not only a spiritual, but physical way. We should remember this verse whenever we face the Qiblah or begin our Tawaf.

In facing the qiblah, we demonstrate the concept of Tawheed in facing in the same direction. Of all the directions humanity can face, the pilgrim chooses the Kaaba. To face any other direction, humanity is lafii khusr, in the state of loss, except those who believe

The pilgrim begins the tawaf, the circumambulation of the Kaaba. Surah Al-Asr continues:

wa amilu salihat and perform good deeds

In Islam, Tawheed is in the beginning and end of every action. From the seed of Tawheed, from belief, as the Qur'an relates to us in a parable, a strong tree bearing fruit grows. Belief in Allah necessitates serving him physically, performing good deeds and actions. So the pilgrim, upon affirming belief in Tawheed, begins to physically walk around the Kaaba, externalizing
belief into action.

Many of the commentators and ulama have spoken of how this circumambulation is representative of many physical phenomena. Electrons revolving around the nucleus of the atom. Planets orbiting the sun.

The pilgrim rotates around the Kaaba, the center, the nucleus of our existence. Again, a reminder of Tawheed. The centrality of Allah SWT, the absoluteness of Allah SWT. But why does the pilgrim circumambulate? Why doesn't he or she simply stand in one place and worship Allah?

Our lives in this world are not static. There are ups and downs. Families, fortunes, tragedies and the events of our daily lives keep us in a state of perpetual motion. Amidst this frenzy, where does the human being turn? Those in the state of loss turn in all different directions, without guidance, towards their desires. They are confused, unfulfilled, their heads swiveling at every turn of life. Walk around in a circle long enough without fixing your eyes on a central focus and you will become dizzy and eventually fall down. The world will have gotten the best of you, and you will be a loser.

The one who performs Tawaf, however, has a central focus, and the focus is Allah SWT. Throughout all the valleys and peaks of life, we are choosing to keep our faces, and our hearts, directed towards Allah. There is no dizziness, no disorientation. The world is defeated and we are amongst the successful as long as we keep on facing Allah SWT.

The pilgrim has turned to face Allah as an affirmation of Tawheed and commenced the circumambulation of Allah's House to practice this belief. What does he or she find?

When one is in tawaf, individuality is taken away. Like a drop of water falling into the currents of a river. Suddenly the pilgrim is immersed in a perpetual state of motion around the Kaaba in the company of thousands of other pilgrims. It is a glorification of Allah where the individual merges with the collective. All of creation is one, serving Allah alone.

Indeed this is the natural state of our nafs. Allah says many times in the Qur'an, All that is in the heavens and earths glorifies Allah. The atoms and molecules that make up our bodies are glorifying Allah constantly, regardless of whether our nafs is. When we stand apart from the tawaf, our nafs remains separated from the natural state of creation. When we choose to
enter the stream of people, our nafs becomes integrated into the natural state of our bodies and the space-time continuum that was only created to glorify Allah.

And I created not jinn and mankind not except that they should worship Me (Surah Adh-Dhariyat)

To remain in this state of glorification, this state of fulfillment, the pilgrim must continue to face the Kaaba (belief) and continue to walk around it (action). If the pilgrim fails to do either, he will find himself suddenly out of phase with the crowd, out of phase with nature itself. What helps to keep the pilgrim in phase? This leads us to the culmination of Surah Al-Asr:

"and recommend to one another to the truth and recommend one another to patience"

The planets are held in their orbits around the sun by the interaction of gravitational forces and other physical phenomena. When we drive in a circle, for instance as we take an exit off the highway, while centripetal forces pull the car in towards the center, an angle, the banking of the road, is introduced, to help offset the centrifugal forces that pull the car out of the curve. If the road banking is removed, the car veers tangentially off the curve and into disaster.

In the tawaf, the banking of the road is the stream of pilgrims that surrounds us, that keeps us in phase. This is what keeps us from veering
tangentially away. Fellow pilgrims are behind us, beside us and in front of us. Humanity joins together on the basis of Tawheed and helps one another for the sake of glorifying Allah SWT. It is through the assistance of our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity that we remain in the natural state of worshipping our Creator. Joining in worship of Allah becomes a force of
social change, enjoining what is just and forbidding what is evil in this world.

We could speak on and on about the lessons of tawaf. They are infinite and we should continue to reflect on them. The affirmation of Tawheed that permeates every aspect of it is crucial since the first question asked of us in our journey after death is by the angels in the grave, who will first ask "Who is our Lord".

The lessons of tawaf are not only for the pilgrim performing it in Masjid-al-Haram, but for all of us. As we leave the Jummah today we must ask ourselves, how are we affirming Tawheed? How are we making tawaf in our daily life?

Are we turning towards Allah, keeping our hearts fixed on Him during the affairs of lives, our jobs and our families?

Are we performing the corresponding actions that come with turning towards Allah?

Are we joining together as a community to help one another in turning towards Allah?

Belief and deeds, both individual and collective. This is the message of Surah Al-Asr and the message of Tawaf. If we do not take heed of this message, we remain in the state of loss and we shall be held accountable on the Day of Reckoning.

May Allah forgive us, guide us towards Him and perfect our deen so that all us are in a state of perpetual tawaf in our daily lives.



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