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The Importance of Sha‘ā’ir Allāh
Dr. Shehzad Saleem


 The word Sha‘ā’ir (شَعَائر) is the plural of Sha‘īrah (شَعِيْرَه) and implies certain objects which indicate and symbolically represent certain realities. In religious parlance, it implies those manifestations of the Sharī‘ah which have been determined by Allah and His Prophet (sws) as emblems to create an understanding of certain realities by symbolically representing them. The real aim is to convey effectively the realities for which they stand, but since they have been fixed by Allah and His Prophet (sws), they are also rendered sacred by virtue of their relationship with the respective realities they symbolize. For example, slaughtering animals for sacrifice is a Sha‘īrah. It expresses the essence of Islam: submission to the Almighty and expending the dearest of things in His cause. The Prophet Abraham (sws) gave a practical demonstration of this spirit by offering the sacrifice of his dear son Ismael (sws). This spirit has been eternally symbolized in the sacrifice of animals to remind people of the essence of Islam constantly.

Likewise, the Hjr-i-Aswad is a Sha‘īrah. Since the time of the Prophet Abraham (sws), touching or kissing it symbolizes a renewal of a person’s pledge to worship and obey the Almighty. Certain Ahādith qualify it as Yamīn’ul-lāh (the hand of Allah) which positively indicates that when a person touches it, he, in reality, places his hand in the hand of Allah and renews his covenant with Allah and when he kisses it, he, in fact, expresses love and obedience for the Almighty.

Similarly, the Jamarāt is also a Sha‘īrah. When the pilgrims pelt stones at these marked places, this act actually symbolizes their readiness and determination to fight against the adversaries of Islam, whether they may be among men or among the progeny of Satan.

The Baytullāh is another Sha‘īrah and perhaps it is the greatest one. The whole Muslim Ummah turns towards it during prayer and as such it is the focal point of Tawhīd and Salāh. By building our mosques in the direction of the Baytullāh and as indeed while circumambulating it, we actually give expression to the belief that we are the obedient servants and devotees of the Almighty, for whose worship this House was actually built.

The Hills of Safā and Marwah too are among the Sha‘ā’iru’l-lāh. It is generally believed that they are called Sha‘ā’ir because Hājrah (rta) had made frantic efforts to find water for her son, Ismael, while running between these hills. However, according to Farāhī (d: 1930), the real reason for these hills to be regarded among the Sha‘ā’ir is that at Marwah the Prophet Abraham (sws) while obeying the Almighty had prostrated his son Ismael in order to sacrifice him. It is to give eternal commemoration to this extraordinary spirit of submission to the Almighty that these hills according to him have been regarded as Sha‘ā’iru’l-lāh.

Moreover, certain aspects of these Sha‘ā’ir need to be considered:

1. These Sha‘ā’ir have been fixed by Allah and His Prophet (sws) and no one whosoever has the right to insert new entries in the list or discard the existing ones. Whenever people on their own have tried to tamper with the contents of this divinely ordained list, this interference, history hears witness, has always resulted in horrible forms of polytheism and religious innovations.

2. Allah and His Prophet (sws) have also, once and for all, determined the manner in which these Sha‘ā’ir should be revered and paid respect to. The reality which a Sha‘īrah symbolizes is best and solely expresses by the manner it should be paid respect to as ordained by the Almighty. Any deviation in this regard not only deprives a person of the sense of this reality, but it also opens the door to polytheism and religious innovation. As an example, suppose that the manner in which Hajr-i-Aswad kissing the hands after touching it or point towards it in a certain manner – during the circumambulation (tawāf) of the Baytullāh. Now if a person does not restrict himself to the prescribed forms of reverence, and shows over enthusiasm in this regard by kneeling in front of it, or by making offerings to it, or showering flowers over it, or indulging in other such activities, then he will be led away from the reality this Sha‘īrah represents and will also get involved in polytheism and religious innovation.

3. The real significance of these Sha‘ā’ir is the realities for which they stand and as objects only serve to embody them. It is essential, therefore, to keep these realities always alive and fresh in the minds of the people. If persistent efforts are not made in this regard, the result is that the real spirit which they embody begins to disappear and their own physical form becomes the real focus of attention. This finally transforms a religion into mere observance of rites and rituals.


 (Adapted from Islāhī’s ‘Tadabbur i Qur’ān’)


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