The annual pilgrimage
This year’s Eidul Azha was no different from the one last year because of the rising price of the sacrificial animal. The original animal was sheep but we shifted to goat because of our preference for goat mutton. Now, we have shifted again to cow and camel, collectively shared by a number of contributors. The ritual is central to our faith.
Eidul Azha is also rightly called Big Eid because of the collective ritual of Hajj and the more universal ritual of animal sacrifice: Azha points to the distinctness (clarity, brightness) of this Eid.
Hajj has the root ‘hjj’
. In Urdu, there are many words originating from this root and meaning many things, apparently quite apart from one another. The root ‘hjj’
means to intend to do something
. The root also implies intending to do something big
Thus, the intention to make a pilgrimage to Makkah is called ‘Hajj’
. Because of the annual nature of the ritual, the Holy Quran also uses Hajj
to mean year. The root also means something else. It means intending to block something from happening.
It is from this sense of blocking something that you have the Urdu word ‘ehtijaj’
. It means protest. If you raise an objection to something you are doing ehtijaj
. Objection itself means to throw something in as if to block.
Reasoning itself can be an intention to block. We have the Urdu word ‘hujjat’
(reasoning) from it. The Holy Quran is itself called the final and clear hujjat
(baligha). In many contexts, we use hujjat
to mean objection. It is used even to convey a sense of hesitation.
When a need is given reason it is called haajat
. A person who is in need is called ‘muhtaaj’
. It means that he has hujjat
for wanting something. A Persian formulation makes it hajatmand
. A more formal way of saying need is ehtiaj
In the Bible, there is a prophet named Haggai. The root indicated in Hebrew is somebody born during a festival. If you pursue the root further, it takes you, like always, to Syriac. There, it means make a pilgrimage and have a feast.
Hajj always had a strong association with feasting. That is why the ‘big feast’ happens for Muslims on Eidul Azha, at the conclusion of Hajj. A person who does Hajj is called al-haaj
. We make it informal by saying haaji
. At times, we don’t take the haaji title seriously and may even use it sarcastically.
I am at times alerted by the hagio- prefix in English words. When someone wrote Hagia Sophia to describe a famous mosque in Turkey, I thought it had something to do with Hajj, but that was not true. The formulation was Latin.
Hagio- comes from Greek, meaning holy or sacred. It led to expressions like stand in awe of or to worship someone. Originally, the writer of the lives of saints was called hagiographer.
Today, if you write a very revering comment on someone it would be called hagiographical. The art of writing praising biographies has attracted the epithet, hagiography.
Anything Greek will take us to the Aryan or Indo-European group of languages. In Sanskrit, the same hagio- prefix can be seen in the word ‘yajna’
, meaning worship or sacrifice. Dozens of Hindi names are derived from this word. It is also pronounced jagia
at times. The Parsis have it as Yasna
in their old Avestan language.
One thing is certain. The basis of worship has always been sacrifice. The ritual of Hajj is a great mystery in which sacrifice is the central act at the popular level. Correctly, however, for Muslims, the stay at Arafat is the central act of Hajj.