Hajj was performed in Makkah even before the advent of Islam. It was supposedly done as a Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim (as) but was more of a business cum social event rather than an act of worship for Allah’s (swt) pleasure. However, one quality of the Arabs that withstood the test of time was their hospitality towards the pilgrims.
The tribe of Quraish, who were the custodians of the Kabah, would go to great lengths in providing food and lodging for the visitors. Trade fairs were organized. A lot of care went into the entertainment and pleasure of the pilgrims. So much so that the pilgrims spent more time in these trade and fun fairs than in performing the Hajj rituals.
The situation is not very different today. Every year, the Saudi government works hard to cater to millions of pilgrims. The pilgrims themselves shop before Hajj in Makkah and Madinah for relatives at home. Some Hajjis consider it essential to buy gold for family members! Prayer mats and beads are a must on the shopping list.
As shopping in Saudi riyals is expensive, some people have come up with an ingenious plan to buy presents in their own countries and distribute them after returning from Hajj, implying that they are from Saudi Arabia. Bringing home deception from Hajj is certainly not a wise option. In some families, relatives give money to the departing pilgrims to help them in shopping for gifts for them, when they return home.
These cultural practices have overburdened us. We don’t find any record of how the Prophet (sa) greeted the pilgrims or how he was greeted after his Hajj; however, it surely is against the spirit of Islam to put undue pressure on the people.
Islam teaches us that it is good to exchange gifts. However, making it obligatory on specific occasions takes away the spirit of giving presents. Not only does the pilgrim waste precious time thinking and shopping for the right gift for everyone, he ends up compromising his Ibaadat for shopping. The pilgrimage of a lifetime becomes like any other vacation.
After the Hajj begins the party season. Every family member and close friend is obliged to give a party in honour of the returning Hajji. The pilgrim must also be given a gift in accordance to the status and closeness of relation. All this hoopla for a compulsory obligation – the fifth pillar of Islam? An obligation that is purely to pay homage to the greatness of Allah (swt) ends up in projection and celebration of the Hajjis. These parties are a burden on the relatives, especially if their budget does not allow it.
If we want to avoid this custom, we should inform our family and friends, before proceeding for Hajj. A Hajji should spend all his time in Ibaadat. He should try to make the most of this opportunity to cleanse his soul and build his relationship with Allah (swt). On his return, he can bring Zamzam water, which should be an ideal gift for all the near and dear ones. If someone insists on a Dawat or gift, then he should accept it with humility, knowing in his heart that he has only performed an obligation by Allah’s (swt) Will and Mercy.