Earlier today, I delivered my 43rd "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.
As it was Eid al-Adha last week, I decided to share something I have been thinking about for many years.
Capacity constraints at Mecca mean that most Muslims will never be able to perform Hajj. Worse still, if you go on Hajj more than once, you are depriving some unknown person of the chance to perform Hajj once in their lifetime. In my view, performing multiple Hajj's is not virtuous but is instead selfish.
Last week Muslims celebrated the festival of Eid al-Adha. This festival comes immediately after the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which every Muslim should do once in their lifetime if they are physically able and can afford it.
My wife and I went on Hajj in 2002. Looking back over the last 16 years, it has been a life changing experience.
The sheer size of the Hajj, around 3 million pilgrims in a small area of land in and around Mecca is mind blowing. I have been thinking about the numbers involved. 3 million pilgrims is a big number, but there are around 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. That means the average Muslim would need to wait for 500 years to get their turn for Hajj.
This sobering calculation tells me that most Muslims will never be able to go on Hajj. There simply isn’t enough physical capacity around Mecca.
Saudi Arabia sets Hajj quotas for many countries. For the UK, there is no quota, but you have to wait five years before going again. That still allows many British Muslims to go on Hajj several times.
Having been on Hajj, I can understand why people want to go again. Most importantly, if you go on Hajj, your sins are supposed to be forgiven. However, I look at it a different way. If you go on Hajj a second time, you are taking up a space that would have been somebody else’s only time on Hajj.
My question is: “If you go on Hajj a second time, is that a good deed, or are you being selfish?”
Hajj can only be performed on one specific date in the Islamic calendar. Those are the days 8 - 12 in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the last month of the Islamic year.
During the rest of the year, except when the facilities are closed, one can visit Mecca and perform Umrah. There are specific religious rites associated with Umrah, and performing Umrah has religious merits. However it is not obligatory for Muslims, and does not replace the performance of Hajj which is a religious duty for all Muslims who are capable of carrying it out.
Accordingly none of my comments above apply to performing Umrah more than once. They are specifically directed at performing Hajj more than once.
Instead of going on Hajj a second time, I believe it would better for you to donate the money you would have spent to enable a poor person to perform Hajj.