The Physical Impact of Hajj
the human body is a container of one's heart and mind. one's physical activities express what one harbors in both whether faith or unbelief or whether moral values or degrading ones. hence, all the heavenly laws, in general, and islam in particular, are interested in satisfying the bodily needs in a way that causes one no harm.
it is only allah the creator who have thorough knowledge about how human bodily needs can be satisfied in a balanced way that does not negatively affect the spiritual and intellectual aspects of the human being. allah almighty says, "should he not know what he created? and he is the subtle, the aware." (al-mulk 67:14)
modernity has achieved unprecedented strides in the fulfillment of the bodily needs. it has invented all things that ensure the body's comfort in terms of food, drink, ride or rest. a human being nowadays can press a button to turn on or off a light; a second button to talk to someone on the moon or on the other side of the earth, etc.,.
one thinks that he/she has achieved all types of comfort and leisure, but he/she doesn't know that when one exaggerated in fulfilling the bodily needs, he/she destroyed his/hers capabilities and weakened his/her strength. with this mad pursuit of bodily fulfillment the soul lost faith, and the mind diverted from the true belief and moral ethics.
moreover, when one realized all kinds of physical pleasures, one found that this is only a mirage of happiness. the happiness that one has been seeking evaporated with the heat of desire and whimsical pursuits.
and yet, the human being is still searching for worldly happiness, oblivious of the fact that the true comfort and happiness is in the hereafter. the only way to attain that happiness is through abiding by the teachings of islam so that all aspects of the muslim's life, spiritual, behavioral, mental, and physical are founded on a balanced basis.
in his book, ar-ryadah wa al-hadarah al-islamyah, dr. amin al-khouli says:
the philosophy of islam does not aim at suppressing the needs of the body or belittling its importance and humiliating it in the pursuit of pure spiritual attainment. it does not forbid the comforts of this life as some monks have done in their ascetic approach to the life of this world. those monks exaggerated so much in suppressing their bodily desires to the point where they tortured their bodies and thus lost the equilibrium of the human nature [as almighty allah created it].
islam is the divine moderate way of life that does not plunge the body into fulfilling its base desires, nor does it deny it the comforts and enjoyments [it naturedly needs].
hajj, which is a spiritual ritual in its first instance, does also give the body physical strength to carry on with this life.
hajj has manifold impacts on the well-being of the body as follows in the following points:
strength of the body and safety of the route
one of the conditions of hajj is ability, as allah almighty said,
"hence, pilgrimage unto the house (ka`bah) is a duty owed to allah by all people who are able to undertake it." [al-imran — 3:97]
the ability includes the body being able to withstand hajj rituals as well as travel and exhaustion implied. according to ibn hazm, ability includes good health and the ability to walk. this is because hajj is a type of jihad (sacred struggle) and it requires an able body so that its rituals may be performed properly.
islam has permitted those who have a financial means but not bodily ability to perform hajj by delegating someone to perform it on their behalf. this is to ensure that they do not feel a depressive mood because of their thought that the weakness of their body has prevented them from earning the reward of hajj. this would have also positive effect on one's physical health.
this shows that islam is considerate of people's health and does not overburden them beyond their capabilities. at the same time, it does not deny them the reward that may be achieved by allowing someone who is bodily unable to make hajj, to delegate someone else to go in their place if the former is financially able.
having the ability also includes the availability of a safe way where robbers and the like may not bring physical harm to the person performing hajj. should there be any danger of this kind, hajj would not be due for a person, even if he/she has the finances and the physical ability to perform it.
teaching personal hygiene
it is recommended before ihram to shave pubic and underarm hair, clip the nails, trim the moustache, perform ghusl and put on perfume. before one's entrance into makkah, mina, and `arafat, it is recommended to perform ghusl. all of this shows us the degree of care that islam shows toward the personal hygiene of the pilgrim
it is also sunnah to change the white clothes of hajj every time they get dirty so that the muslim stays clean and be presented cleanly among the people. all of these good manners portray to us a picture in which the person's spiritual engagement in the rituals of hajj does not keep one from maintaining tangible physical cleanliness. this is because the relationship between the spiritual aspect of hajj and the physical one is highly strong. for example, a muslim who does not perform ghusl before tawaf may distract his companions by his body odor.
developing a culture of disease control and prevention
one of the rulings of hajj is that a person who has a contagious disease is not required to perform hajj so that he/she would not cause harm to others by his presence. this is derived from the following example,
`umar ibn al-khattab passed by a leprous woman doing tawaf round the ka`bah, and he said to her: " o' servant of allah, do not make people uneasy. better that you stay in your house," so she did so. a man said to her after `umar's death, "the one who forbade you has died, so you can come out [to perform hajj]." but the woman replied, 'i am not going to obey him when he is alive and disobey him when he is dead."
the woman followed the order of `umar with a contented heart, seeking the reward of her obedience from allah almighty. she saw in `umar's words a general juristic ruling applicable to all people in her conditions, not an administrative order peculiar to a certain time. and as an enlightened true believer, she followed that ruling to avert her fellow muslim pilgrims her contagious disease.
if a sickness is not contagious, then there is no blame on the person to go and perform hajj if they are able to complete the rituals. but out of mercy, allah almighty has given those people some dispensations to alleviate their burden. for example,
it is reported that umm salamah said, "i mentioned to the messenger of allah (peace and blessings be upon him) that i was not feeling well." he said: "make tawaf behind the people while riding." (al-bukhari)
these regulations and others indicate that the physical conditions of the pilgrims are taken care of in the regulations of hajj. there should be no overburdening upon them so as they are caused more physical harm than can be treated.
encouraging physical exercise
hajj is one of the rituals in which a lot of walking is done: while traveling or inside makkah; while inside ka`bah during tawaf; during the sa`y between marwa and safa; while running between the two green markers; while going out to mina or arafah; while coming back to muzdalifah and then mina and so on.
these long distances are all usually covered by walking. walking is a good exercise for the body. it has so many health benefits and can reduce the risk of many diseases.
we ask allah the almighty to enrich our knowledge and help us to act upon the righteous acts of what we know; and to make this effort in our scale of good deeds on the day when we come to meet him, the ever-kind, the most-merciful. and we end our du`aa' with: alhamdulilahi rabbil`alamin (all praise are due to allah the lord of the worlds).