Pilgrimage: Some highly sinful practices

Q439 :If a person has been guilty of some very serious offenses such as worshipping graves, attending death anniversaries of pirs and grand pirs, do these practices reflect on his faith? Suppose he offers pilgrimage, is he forgiven for his sins? Suppose he gives up these practices but is unable to perform pilgrimage, how can he achieve forgiveness?

A439 : Let me first explain that we use the expression "the worship of graves" to denote the practices of some people who visit graves of some dead persons whom they consider to have been saints or blessed people and ask them to accomplish certain needs of their own. They may do this at the Prophet's grave in Madinah, but they do it more often in their own towns and villages, having elevated certain people to a saintly grade. All this is unacceptable in Islam. In fact it runs contrary to the very concept of the Oneness of Allah on which Islam and all divine religions are based. It is not possible for any human being to remain within the fold of Islam while at the same time believing that a certain person, whether dead or alive, can be of any benefit to him in the hereafter. If he also believes that a dead person can answer any request or prayer, he is making a god of him. That is polytheism, or, to use the Islamic term, shirk. It is needless to say that there is no offense more serious or more grave than this. It is unfortunate that in many Muslim areas, people tend to think that pirs, who get their position merely through belonging to a family of pirs, should be obeyed in all matters. A person who has that rank may have very little knowledge of Islam, its beliefs, worship, systems, practices and values. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate to give guidance to all those who look up to him to provide such guidance. They give him money and gifts and humble themselves before him. They consider that if he is pleased with them, they are ensured salvation in the hereafter. This is again a form of shirk, which is totally unacceptable. Whether such thoughts, beliefs and practices are forgiven on the performance of the pilgrimage or not is a matter which needs clarification. The Prophet teaches us that pilgrimage offered with sincerity and dedication ensures the forgiveness of all sins. But when he says that, he only refers to sinful practices. He does not include false beliefs. Forgiveness is granted by Allah to people who do not associate any partners with Him, or, in other words, are not guilty of shirk. Allah states clearly in the Qur'an a rule which must remain with us as part of our beliefs: "Allah never forgives that partners should be associated with Him, but He is ready to forgive whomsoever He wills anything other than that." This means that when it comes to belief, we must be absolutely clear. No trace of polytheism may be allowed to creep into our minds. When we have reached this stage, the forgiveness of any sins is obtainable, with Allah's grace. But once our beliefs involve polytheism in any shape or form, forgiveness is absolutely denied. On this basis, I can tell you without hesitation that if a person is guilty of entertaining such beliefs or following this line or practice which elevates a pir to a position of godhead, the offering of pilgrimage will not bring him any forgiveness. Not even if he offers that pilgrimage every year. First he has to eradicate any trace of polytheism from his beliefs. It is only then that he can hope for forgiveness. In fact the forgiveness of such practices does not require pilgrimage. What it requires is for the person concerned to examine his beliefs in the light of Islam. He must first of all clearly understand the meaning of the declaration which brings a person into the fold of Islam, i.e. the Kalimah which can be stated in translation as: "I bear witness that there is no deity save Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His messenger." He should understand what godhead means and what the concept of the Oneness of Allah actually means in beliefs and in practices. He should also be fully aware of what the declaration that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is Allah's messenger entails. I can tell you very briefly that it means that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the only person through whom we receive Allah's instructions on how to conduct our lives, what principles to follow, what values to observe and what practices to adopt. When we have understood that very clearly, we should mold our lives in accordance with this basic and fundamental aspect. We should always be keen to learn more about Islam so that our understanding of it is very clear. When someone suggests to us that a certain practice will improve our standing with Allah, we do not accept his statement without question. We look at it in the light of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). If we find it in accordance with those teachings, we accept it; if not, we reject it off hand. If a person who has been guilty of the practices and beliefs you have mentioned follows this course and examines his beliefs and practices in the light of the guiding principles included in the declaration of belonging to Islam, and then repents of what he had done in the past, gives it all up and starts to conduct his life according to the Prophet's teachings, he is sure to earn Allah's forgiveness. He should then go to pilgrimage as part of his duties as a Muslim. When he offers the pilgrimage with sincerity and dedication, he is forgiven all his past sins. As you realize, pilgrimage is a duty of all Muslims who can afford to undertake the journey, physically and financially. What this means is that forgiveness of the aforementioned beliefs and practices can be earned through repentance and the rectification of one's beliefs. Pilgrimage brings about the forgiveness of lesser sins.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )