Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
And complete the pilgrimage and the Umrah for the sake of God. If you are prevented from doing so, then whatever offering for sacrifice you can afford, and do not shave your heads until the offering has reached the place of sacrifice. If any of you is ill, or has an ailment of the scalp, he should compensate by fasting, or feeding the poor, or offering sacrifice. When you are in safety, anyone wishing to take a break between the Umrah and the Hajj one must make whatever offering he can afford. If he lacks the means, he should fast for three days during the Hajj, and seven days on his return, making ten days in all. This applies to those whose household is not near the Sacred Mosque. Always be mindful of God, and be aware that He is stern in His retribution. (Chapter 2: Verse 196)
The order of verses and topics in the Holy Quran is fascinating. A few verses earlier, God began by talking about fasting Ramadan, and after that He discussed the Hajj pilgrimage and its appointed times. The month of Ramadan comes before the months of Hajj, so the flow of the verses is consistent with the flow of time. These verses were also interjected by the discussion about the legislation of fighting –more specifically during the sacred months- which is also consistent with the flow of time.
The verse under study starts with: “And complete the pilgrimage and the Umrah for the sake of God” indicating that the obligation of Hajj has already been established, and what Allah is asking you to do is to perform it to perfection. The Hajj pilgrimage and the Umrah share many rituals and acts of worship, but they differ in the fact the Hajj pilgrimage has a specific appointed time and requires the presence in Arafa. Take note that when God talks about obligation, He Almighty only mentions the Hajj pilgrimage –not the Umrah-. God says in the 97th verse of chapter 3:
The Hajj Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed to God by people who are able to undertake it.
This is yet another proof that the Quran has to be studied as a whole and not taken out of context. More specifically, you should gather all the verses and Prophet narrations that discuss a certain topic and study them together. It is the best way to assure that you have a complete understanding of the subject. Here is an example from the 3rd verse of chapter 9. God says:
And a proclamation from God and His Messenger to all people on this day of the Major Pilgrimage: that God disavows those who associate partners with Him, and His Messenger likewise.
In this verse, the phrase “Major Pilgrimage” refers to the Hajj, and indicates to you that there are other types of pilgrimage which you can only learn about from other verses and narrations. Likewise, when you read the prophet’s narration that says: “Hajj is Arafa” you understand that the main event during Hajj is the event of standing at Mount Arafa, which is not a requirement of the Umrah pilgrimage. As you see, a higher level of understanding can only be obtained by looking at all the Quranic verses and prophet’s narrations regarding the topic on hand.
Here is a commonly asked question: Since Hajj and Umrah are two distinct acts of worship, can they be performed together, or should they be done separately? Scholars have differed regarding this issue. Some said that doing an exclusive trip for Hajj is better, while others encouraged doing both on the same trip and in the same Ihram. This means to perform Umrah first, stay in the state and attire or Ihram until the Hajj duties are completed. A third opinion is to break your state of Ihram between Hajj and Umrah. In other words, you arrive and perform Umrah, get out of Ihram and begin a new one for Hajj. God says: ‘When you are in safety, anyone wishing to take a break between the Umrah and the Hajj one must make whatever offering he can afford.‘
The verse continues: “And complete the pilgrimage and the Umrah for the sake of God.” Allah is aware that some people may only perform the superficial rituals of the pilgrimage; there will be others who will go to Hajj to take advantage of the high season for trade. This verse is a reminder to all of us that the pilgrimage should be performed and perfected for the sake of God. In fact, even the thought and planning you put into making this trip should be done with God exclusively in mind. Purity of intention will serve you well in other matters too. If your intention to perform the pilgrimage of Hajj and Umrah is for God’s sake, then you would make sure that the money you use to make this trip is earned by lawful means. The Hajj trip should be pure in all its aspects, whether spiritual, financial or social. Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him- said: “Those of you who properly perform the Hajj pilgrimage without committing indecent acts or mischief will be cleared of their sins as if they were born today.”
Sadly, some people misunderstand this narration as an excuse to do whatever they like before Hajj because all sins will be forgiven. We answer that the purity of your intention and the purity of your finances start well before the actual pilgrimage trip. Moreover, it is crucial to clarify which of your sins will be forgiven. God will forgive all your sins and shortcomings in your duties towards Him. In other words, if you have wronged yourself in your relationship with Allah –such as not performing your prayers, or fasting carelessly- then Allah will forgive these shortcomings. However, if you have wronged your fellow man, then these sins have to be addressed justly. God will forgive your sins towards Him, but He will not forgive your sins towards other people. So make sure that your dealings with people are just and fair, and seek forgiveness from those you have wronged. If you owe somebody money, you cannot go to Hajj until you pay what you owe, or at the very least obtain that person’s permission to go to Hajj. Such are the steps on the road to purity before you go on the actual trip to Mecca.
Allah also knows that –despite your best efforts-, there will be circumstances outside your control. You may fall ill before your trip and be advised by doctors against traveling. Border authorities may prevent you from leaving your country or entering the Holy Land. This is similar to what happened to the Prophet and his companions in Huddaibya when they were prevented from entering Mecca. Allah –the all merciful- wants to give you peace of mind, and to honor your efforts and intentions. He says: ‘If you are prevented from doing so, then whatever offering for sacrifice you can afford, and do not shave your heads until the offering has reached the place of sacrifice.’ You have the option of earning great rewards by sacrificing an animal –if you have the means to do so- in cases where you trip was unsuccessful.
Allah gives yet another permit to those who are ill or have scalp issues to compensate by fasting, giving charity or sacrificing an animal. Here again, you can see the beauty of Islam. God gave three choices for the ill on a progressive scale. First, there is the option of fasting which only benefits the person who fasts. Second, at a higher level, there is the option of giving charity, which helps the believer and a few poor people; yet for those who strive to do better, the third option of animal sacrifice is given, which is enough to feed tens of poor people. You can choose what you want to do based on your level of faith, finances, and desire for reward.
Here, we should take a moment to study the true meaning of the phrase “If he lacks the means.” Sadly, we see some people who –as soon as they make it to Mecca or Medina for Hajj- rush to the market to buy gifts and souvenirs. And when the time comes for the animal sacrifice, they are out of money and claim that they do not have the means to do so. We answer that ‘not having the means’ should be applied faithfully. In other words, it should be a valid excuse to those who are in true poverty or had a real financial emergency. Buying gifts and spending money on luxuries should only be done after all the necessities of worship have been satisfied. The phrase: ‘If he lacks the means, he should fast for three days during the Hajj, and seven days on his return, making ten days in all’ has been explained by the scholars to apply to those who know beforehand that they would not be able to afford an animal. It does not apply to those who put themselves in a situation where they run out of money. The prescribed fast for the poor are three days of fasting that can start as early as the 2nd day of Eid, and seven days on the way back home or as soon as the traveler returns. God says: ‘making ten days in all’ so we understand that it is not a choice between fasting three and seven days, but an obligation to fast a whole ten. Moreover, those who fast these days because they honestly could not sacrifice an animal will earn the full reward from Allah as if they had sacrificed.
The verse ends with: ‘Always be mindful of God, and be aware that He is stern in His retribution.’ Why would Allah warn us of severe punishment just after He offered such ease and accommodation? We answer that Allah does not want you to take advantage of or abuse His permits. They are reserved for those in poverty, those who are ill, or those who run into real emergencies, not for the lazy or the opportunist.