The Salat and Hajj are two elements that define Islam and exert huge influence over the one and half billion people that follow this religion. They work in similar yet different ways and this post will look into addressing their similarities briefly before analysing their differences in the Islamic world.
In a certain right, they could be seen as identical rituals played over different timeframes. Both allow for Muslims to try intimate with God “in an attempt to transcend himself in the direction of the highest perfection” as noted by Brohi in looking at what the purpose of prayer is (138). Indeed, the Hajj provides a chance for Muslims to follow in the footsteps of Muhammad and try experience God through a few days of frantic ritual while the daily Salat allows for the Qur’an to be heard and contemplated each day. Throughout both of these activities, followers are reminded to avoid evil and do good; whether is in the form of “dealing [Satan] a mortal blow” in Mina or asking daily that God may “guide us in the straight path” during daily Salat it becomes clear that each of these serves a vital role in avoiding the temptations that many face to disregard religion (296 Peters, 132 Brohi). The sole dedication to God is continually reminded through the countless recitations of “God is Greatest!” occurring in each Rak’a and the three Tawafs performed around the Ka’ba respects the place of God that Abraham built (132 Tabbarah). While these two events allow Muslims to declare their loyalty to God we must acknowledge the disparity in how they are practiced and the meaning they will have to those performing them.
The first difference we must acknowledge is that the Hajj has become a very rare event for Muslims to attend and “the vast majority of Muslims will never be able to afford it” while Salat is happens five times a day (66 Bianchi). To be sure, the experiences at Mecca will imprint themselves powerfully in the minds of those who come but this tradition of the few being able to take part has diverted from when Arabian Muslims “were accustomed to making the Hajj at their leisure, and many came every year” (58 Bianchi). Indeed the parallel between the Hajj “expiate[ing] the sins of a year” done “consecutively” according to Hadith links up neatly with Salat offering a “river” that “God obliterates sin with” (15 Murata and Chittick). Muslims now have to hope that they may be able to fulfil this “obligation incumbent on all competent Muslims” perhaps once in their lives (281 Peters). It is clear that the Hajj does not offer the yearly clense from sin that daily prayer has to offer and even more crucially it openly will not be undertaken by all Muslims. Does this leave it as a ritual offering religious satisfaction of the highest calibre to those wealthy (and healthy) enough to take part? I believe that it acts as a safeguard of Islams history and tradition that provides all with a clear aspiration. Continuing a ritual that Abraham is believed to have started grants Islam much authority within the eyes of their followers and cements the history passed down from generation to generation (admittedly not perfectly). Alongside this it forces the traditions practiced to be relevant to modern Muslims that may stray from the fundamentals proposed in the Qur’an without these demanding measures. The historical importance derived from this yearly event centres the Islamic world on Mecca and unifies Muslims from across the globe in a specific shared heritage. In this it plays a crucial role in keeping Islams higher culture healthy with a tradition that solidifies the beliefs and practices around the world. Contrasting with this, Salat offers Muslims a rigorous way to interact with God daily that will strengthen their obedience while allowing their own problems to be raised. This is crucial in shaping a society that is conscious of the Qur’an (thus God’s word) in everything they do. Here it becomes clear that one major difference is the net impact on the Islamic world: a Hajj has a worldwide effect through the actions of a few while the Salat cements the ideals preached in the Hajj from day-to-day. Without the Hajj Islam would lose a major constituent of their global identity while an Islam without Salat would lose influence of the daily actions of its followers.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Hajj is how it has become politicised in a way that the Salat never could be. Considering the well detailed steps within the Salat, little could be done to change it into something that can be taken advantage of by contemporary powers. The Hajj on the other hand is used constantly by politicians looking to earn quick favour with their constituencies by offering fully paid or subsidised Hajjs and championing the increase in quotas assigned to their regions. This leaves many Hajjis without the support offered in another region and further diminishes the religious satisfaction enjoyed by minority Muslims.
Overall, it is crucial to point out that to many the Hajj is a once in a lifetime event that allows them to sincerely express their religion. This doesn’t diminish its role in the Muslim world but can’t be compared to an act taken in complete seriousness every day with the express intention to come closer to God, especially considering the loss of contemplation enjoyed by contemporary Hajjis who to lend all focus to staying alive. These daily remembrances show why Hadith suggests that “God loves the Salat more than every other human act” (11 Murata and Chittick). In some ways, Hajj stands as the pinnacle of godly devotion while the Salat serves as the foundation a Muslim requires to get there.
Peters, A Reader on Classical Islam, 279-89 and 294-8 Princeton University Press
Bianchi, Guests of God, 7-21 and 49-75 Oxford University Press
Tabbarah, The Spirit of Islam, 129-147
A Brohi, Islamic Spirituality, 131-43 Crossroad New York
Murata and Chittick, The Vision of Islam, Paragon House