For all individuals, without a doubt, the odds in this life are against them. But the obstacles are there not to frustrate, but to bring out the best in you. They are designed to put you on your mettle and permit the indomitable Self you possess to reveal itself in all its glory. You develop yourself in the course of overcoming obstacles. Frustration will force you to reconstruct your personality. Rebuffs and set-backs toughen and harden you and by facing challenges you develop a mature personality. So even at times when the world appears to be stern and unkind, in the long run it turns out to be not your enemy, but your friend. This is why the concept of challenge is important: the concept of hajj. Hajj means to challenge or confront.


In verse 2:196 the Quran decrees that you “shall take the challenge to promote the living system in the name of God. If you are restricted in any way, you shall strive to do what you can. If you are ill or suffering an injury you shall expiate by Self-discipline, as an act of sincerity or some other form of work for the good of society. Be practical when facing the challenges for promoting the living system. Self-discipline is required for three days and then a further seven to make a ten day period to complete this. Self-sacrifice is necessary to uphold the Sanctioned Submissions especially when you are at a distance from home. You shall fulfil your duty to God and know that God is strict in enforcing retribution.”


This challenge described above is for everyone to take part and promote the practical values and standards of God’s system in the living world. Take a fixed number of days to give your time and money for the promotion of Deen-Islam. You must take up this challenge to make your neighbourhood, city, country and the world a place of peace and security by removing fear and turmoil from around us. You do this when you promote this Deen-Islam and implement this guidance. Quranic values offer long term benefits both to individuals and societies. They nurture the strength of the Self to help face the challenges that life inevitably throws at the human being.


Those who reject the guidance in the Quran will face other challenges: “As they confront each other in the inferno (Arabic: hajj-i-finaar) of their deeds, the supporters will say to their leaders, “We used to be your followers, can you spare us any part of this hell?” The leaders will say, “We are all in this together. God has judged the people.” [Verses 40:47-48].


In traditional translations ‘hajj’ is wrongly translated as pilgrimage, and in some verses as dispute or argue. According to the root structures of the Arabic language hajj means ‘challenge or confront’. If the word ‘hajj’ means ‘pilgrimage’, then the verse 40:47 would read: ‘making a pilgrimage to the inferno’ instead of the true meaning “confront each other in the inferno”. Those condemned to hell confront each other, especially the followers who plead with those who led them to now save them from this punishment. But judgement has been passed and there they must stay. Other verses also negate that idea that ‘hajj’ means pilgrimage.


Note that the Quran states [Verse 40:47-48] these companions did not ‘argue in the inferno’ but that they ‘confront’ each other. See verse and footnote: 2:76. For the word argue, dispute and debate: See also verse and footnote 2:197.


The rite of pilgrimage is one of the most damaging ideas in any religion. For a journey to a supposed ‘holy’ place, millions of people gather to perform trite rituals with the single egotistical aim of attaining salvation only for themselves. Many hope to die there, as hundreds of pilgrims do each year, in the hope of ‘martyrdom’ and a first class ticket to heaven. Nothing could be more selfish.


On the annual pilgrimage to Mecca each person spends a liberal amount of money; the most he or she can afford. This vast pool of money funds the cost of travel, accommodation, food, holy gifts, barbers for the hair cutting ceremony, and so on. It fills the pockets of governments, travel agents, mediators and other operators. In 2015 the annual pilgrimage industry was worth more than £8.4 billion, including the non-obligatory lesser pilgrimages undertaken throughout the year. In the same year the total Saudi tourist industry was worth almost £16 billion. The figures are mind boggling and are set to increase each year as more emphasis is placed on pilgrimages because the oil revenue is said to be declining. For the locals the pilgrimage is a major source of income as in any major tourist industry. Many barbers, for the essential hair cutting ceremony, can triple their price and ensure that they don’t lose out on any seasonal profiteering that has become customary at this time for all trades.


Because of the mistaken belief that the pilgrimage is decreed by God, people consider it an act of ultimate piety and many use their life savings despite the poor living conditions in the home countries of the respective pilgrims. One year’s income from pilgrimage trade could alone change the lives of all the citizens in any one country each year. For example, Bangladesh is frequently devastated by floods. The poverty in some areas is unimaginable with dire living conditions, crude sanitation and no running water or electricity – truly a life of hell.


When God speaks about social welfare, he means the concept of ehsan, to balance society and close the gaps created by the disparity of poor distribution of wealth, not only locally but also globally, that is why it says that people should expend their money for social welfare.


Going on a lavish or even a basic pilgrimage does not in reality fulfil any duty to God. With all the money spent on pilgrimages, if diverted in the service of God, muslims with one stroke could wipe out a poor nation’s debt, raise the living standards and create a society that has dignity, respect and economic strength.


Money spent on a pilgrimage may satisfy one’s inner desire and give some emotional comfort to the individual, but this is a false hope because according to the Quran it is the act of facing and overcoming life’s real challenges that develop the Self and not such selfish acts of fulfilling contrived rituals in order to gain a passage to heaven. In reality rituals such as pilgrimages are an economic exploitation of society.


We just need to look around us to see the heart wrenching situations that grip people in many parts of the world. Most people are poor, hungry and lack even the basic reading and writing skills. Millions don’t have proper homes, those that do have somewhere they can call home, the standard is so poor it can barely be called survival. Poor sanitation, no running water, gas, electric or enough food to eat. They have no health care to speak of and children grow up in conditions we would be ashamed to keep our dogs in. In some Asian countries, due to ignorance and poverty, mothers kill their baby girls fearing the burden of a dowry payment. Each day millions face economic oppression and are weighed down by exorbitant loans, leading many to take their own lives.


These are the people that need their standard brought up to a decent level of living for human beings. These are the ones that can be helped by money, money that many wrongly believe guarantees them a ticket to heaven.


The money spent on pilgrimages and mosques can be better spent on building hospitals, schools, universities, libraries and community health care. The countries that send the most pilgrims are probably the ones that need these facilities the most.


The Quranic concept of ehsan is to balance society and that is why the concept of social welfare is important. Those in a position to do so are obligated to contribute from their income. The word the Quran uses to describe this expenditure is anfaq. This can be a portion of your money set aside for directly helping those in need and also tax paid to central government for the maintenance of a national welfare system.


When we see the billions of pounds spent on religious rites as a gateway to heaven, which only those with money can afford, while other people: poor people, millions of men, women and children suffer daily, die daily because of lack of care that this money can easily buy, the situation begs the question: did God really ordain such a ritual? Are people so heartless as to trample over the rights of the needy to make for themselves a pathway to heaven?


To expend yourself and your money (from what God has bestowed upon you) and to stamp out poverty, hunger and poor living standards is the challenge that you really need to undertake. To stop slavery, dowry and oppression is what people should strive for. To fight against aggression and injustice around the world is the challenge people should stand up for.


Now that would be taking on a real challenge.
That is hajj, according to the Quran.