How We Got The Titles “Alhaji” And “Hajia” So Wrong
In less than a month, millions of Muslims will converge in Mecca (Makkah) as the guests of God performing their duty to Him, as has been instructed in the Qur’an 3:69 “…Pilgrimage to the House (in Mecca) is a duty owed to Allah by all who can make their way to it.” Collectively, the pilgrims are called “hujaaj” (the pilgrims), and individuals are addressed as “hajj” (for male pilgrims) and “hajjah” (for female pilgrims). Muslims embarking on the Hajj pilgrimage are called “hujaaj” from the day they set off from their home countries to Mecca until completing all the rites associated with the pilgrimage. The “hujaaj” reference ceases when the pilgrims complete their rites and return to their home countries. Even though the pilgrims will come from every corner of the world, only a section will return to their home countries with a certain title attached to their names. Many of those who will prefix their names or expect others to prefix their names with the titles Alhaji or Hajia for the males and females respectively will be Africans, especially Ghanaians and Nigerians.
Yesterday an incident happened that pricked my thoughts regarding the titles Alhaji and Hajia that we are too familiar with in Ghana and elsewhere. In the company of a fellow African, he received a call and just a few seconds after he was fuming and admonishing his interlocutor for refusing or forgetting to precede his name with the title Alhaji. He felt irritated because it costs an arm and a leg to perform Hajj and he would not take it lightly should someone deny him his title.
The thought of people insisting on being addressed by these titles after their pilgrimage kept haunting me. I know we are a people obsessed with titles because we are always looking to upgrade our social status in one way or the other. Think about the many people who want to be called “bro ” or “sister” as signs of respect in our communities. And there are the many “uncles” and “aunties” we have, even though they are neither our mother’s brothers and sisters nor our father’s relatives; in reality, our only connection with them is that we are all from Adam and Hawa (Eve). As for the many “bossu”, “chairman” and “honourables”, I will leave them untouched. The question is should this obsession for titles creep into the religious realm? Is there not the fear of showing off which can actually deny one of all the blessings they might accrue from performing the pilgrimage?
There is no evidence in the Sharee’ah (Divine Islamic Law) or the Sunnah (legal ways of the Prophet) that sanctions the use of the titles Alhaji and Hajia after performing Hajj. The Hajj journey is one towards fulfilling a religious obligation and an attempt to purify oneself. In a hadith, Al-Bukhaari (1773) and Muslim (1349) narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “…an accepted Hajj brings no reward but Paradise.” The primary aim of embarking on the pilgrimage must be to please Allah and not an attainment of a worldly benefit. The title use itself reeks of innovation in religion if people consider it as part of Islam or an act of worship.
People’s insistence on using the titles makes the journey look like one towards social status elevation or title acquisition. Alhajis and Hajias in our societies occupy the front seats and sit at high tables during social gatherings. Their opinions suddenly become weightier and they are given other preferences in different situations. It is for the purpose of social recognition that many pilgrims still return from Mecca with one or two of their teeth plated with gold or silver, the “tooth of Mecca” as they are called. This is how society itself has contributed towards tempting people to insist on bearing those titles.
Do we need to continue preceding our names with that title throughout the rest of our lives after performing Hajj? Are we always pilgrims or do we just want to remind people that we were once the guests of God? If we understand that our worship is for Allah alone, there will be no burden to prove to others that we have done one good deed or another. The hadith of the seven groups of people who will be shaded by Allah on the day when there will be no shade includes “… a man who gives in charity and conceals it to such an extent that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives.” This is enough motivation to keep our good deeds secret.
Oh, Muslims! Be reminded that actions are rewarded by their intentions and everyone will get the reward of what they intended. The danger with intentions is that one may sincerely intend to perform Hajj for the sake of Allah but his or her insistence on using the title after Hajj may affect their earlier intention. Scholars agree that showing off may happen before the action, during the action and even after the action. Is there anyone willing to sacrifice their reward of Paradise for an accepted Hajj merely to upgrade their social status?
May Allah accept the pilgrimage of the pilgrims this year and if Allah grants you the wealth and health, perform Hajj sincerely for His sake; but please do not return home preceding your name with Alhaji or Hajia. Allah says “When you make up your mind to perform Hajj and Umrah, accomplish these to please Allah….” (Qur’an 2:196).
Mohammed Sakip Iddrisu