Football, Glastonbury & the Hajj

Football, Glastonbury & the Hajj

11 Jul 2021

Transcript of a talk given on 11 Jul 2021 by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad

اَلْحَمْدُ لِلهِ وَالصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه ومن اهتدى بهداه

Thinking about the Hajj, about the eid. Praying for the Hajjis, now of course sadly reduced in number thanks to Covid19 but it’s one of the culminations of our year and today happens to coincide with a rather more secular pilgrimage event which has really gripped the country’s soul which is of course the match between England and Italy.

A kind of secular pilgrimage if you like, focused on Wembley but an interesting illustration of what brings us together and how we see ourselves including plenty of Muslims even some CMC (Cambridge Muslim College) graduates are excitedly tweeting football’s coming home – and the symbols seem to be about ‘Eng-er-land’ but what does that now mean in our secular post-traditional post-narrative post-everything age ?

The fans who bring along enormous spitfire-shaped balloons – the fans who sport the cross of St George without having the least idea as to what it actually means. It’s become a festival of exhibiting forgotten and unknown symbols but still more significant as an event. One that captures our imagination and brings the pilgrims much more thoroughly than say in St George’s day, our national day largely honored in the breach not the observance, remembrance Sunday.

It’s football really that is the great Hajj event of our story. So as Muslims believers who want people to be going to a place that has something in it. The football is empty, whereas the Ka’baa is empty but not empty – it is the place of the sakinah (Blessings) and that’s the real point people are there for a reason. Which is about themselves, not their identity. That in this age of the celebration of emptiness, we as believers looking at what’s left of England and other western countries will want to know what people used to be interested in. If we’re interested in a form of integration that puts down roots rather than the integration willed by Whitehall which basically means Muslims agreeing with the latest doctrines of sexuality and whatever else it is that is the current fashion but deep integration.

We will find that there was something called The Matter of Britain – an old sense of the country being about something and for something and this involves various forms of pilgrimage. CMC regularly goes to Walsingham which is an area that has obviously conspicuous Quranic resonances. It is said that in the middle ages most people in England had been to Walsingham at least once in their lives. There was a pilgrimage to Canterbury, many other places and as in the Islamic world – places and times were seen as having particular spiritual qualities or khasais, which people would seek out. One of the biggest pilgrimages of course which is rather difficult for Muslims to integrate with is the great pilgrimage of western Europe which is the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrim route, the scallop shell, which leads ultimately to the cathedral of St James and Compostela and the central image there is a Santiago Matamoros – Saint James the Moor-slayer – kill the Muslims, that’s his name, the patron saint of the Reconquista. The definer of what it was to be a western European Matamoros – slay the moors, kill the Muslims.

Difficult for us it would be said to integrate into that particular ritual or to regard it with any kind of favor but there it is and he’s on his horse with his white face cutting the heads off these sad-looking dark-skinned Saracens, moors, Muslims are being trampled underfoot.

Santiago Matamoros in the Cathedral of Burgos
Saint James the Moor-slayer (Santiago Matamoros) – the name given to the representation (sculpture)

That’s where the pilgrim road takes you, well that was one galvanic force a kind of alignment of spiritual energies in traditional Europe. One of sorry memory for ourselves but there are others and for people who still lived in an age when the country was about something would look partly at Walsingham but partly also at Glastonbury. And I want to talk about Glastonbury which might seem to be a million miles from the Hajj at Makkah, at the moment, partly because I was there yesterday and went up Glastonbury tour and saw what is left of that traditional sort of magnet of English spirituality and now largely predictably engulfed by a tide of consumerized new age shops for crystals and hospitals for homeopaths and all kinds of alternative therapies. Goddess worship being the predominant theme and Christian Glastonbury largely subsumed under this enormous rather indulgent wave of new-age sentimentality but still, they’re drawn there for a reason and beneath all of the mock druids and the mock priestesses, there is the reality of a place that has been significant in The Matter of Britain for many thousands of years. And it’s interesting to note that it is a place that attracts Muslims. There’s been a permanent Nakshbandi presence there for well over 20 years. Famous Shaykh Nazim Haqqani when he went there in the 1990s said Glastonbury is the spiritual heart of England and he explained that his own teacher Shaykh Abdullah Darigstani had said that Britain would be particularly susceptible to the message of Islam and that when he came to Glastonbury he understood why that would be. Shaykh Abdul Aziz al-Buhari from al-Auds also went there and prayed there and many others and it’s a small byway of the British Muslim experience but one that indicates where I think increasing generation, increasingly significant generation of new Muslims are interested because they want to know what is this land, what is its spiritual topography. How can they blend with it? How can they escape from the kind of iron cages of those Luton mosques and follow the Quranic injunction to seek God, to seek holiness, to find the ways of Allah in His creation. To see the signs of Allah and His creation, following that commandment. So what does it mean to us and what on earth is its connection to these 10 days that initiate the kind of build-up to the Hajj – the great culmination of our year?

Well Glastonbury is said to be sacred because according to the legend and we hear very solid in the realm of legend, rather than history, Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of Christ from the crucifixion in what became the Holy Grail and brought it to England and specifically to Glastonbury which at the time, because the marshes around it were navigable, was more or less on the coast but a place that is certainly pre-Christian because there’s neolithic remains stone circles. It’s not that far from Stonehenge and clearly a very important cultic center. There’s the so-called sweet road which may have had religious significance which is said to be the oldest known road in the world. It was a big place.

So the Christians kind of invent these memories and then King Arthur is said to be buried there. It’s the Isle of Avalon– that kind of early William of Malmesbury and then 19th-century sort of romanticizing of the chivalric origins of the English story. Not the story of empire and racism but the story of the land as a place of the holy of sacrality. And if you look at the map of the place and you go to the place, well you see the most obvious thing about the sacred geometry of the place is. Not the ley lines that supposedly are around it and I knew the late Michael Glickman who was a leading serologist, as a crop circle expert. He was very interested in asking me questions about the significance in Islamic sacred geometry of these patterns which mysteriously appear in fields, many of them no doubt spurious but some of them genuinely intriguing and difficult to interpret and also the pattern of the ley lines. The late John Michell who was always a friend of the Muslim community and those of a certain age who remember the Salman Rushdie crisis may recall that the only significant non-muslim voice that wrote at any length in defense of the Muslim position was actually John Michell. He was in touch, a very interesting counter-cultural person who understood the Muslim respect for sacred people and sacred places.

So Glastonbury is very significant for such speculators and attempts to archaeologically find what is holy beneath the kind of football surface of modern flat Britain. But if you look at the city, well it’s a small town of Glastonbury and you can see how the Christians appropriated the older sacred spaces and places and some of them seem to have been inhabited from the time of the old stone age. The Paleolithic, very ancient maybe 100,000 years, people have been worshipping there, doing various things at a time when people were attentive to what we might call the state of ihraam, in other words, a sense of self-denial and approaching certain spaces through making sacrifices, physical and economic in order to approach the temenos, the sacred place and you see all of the features of a traditional sacred place. There’s a sacred well of course, The Chalice Well. There are straight lines and circles which are the basic geometric pattern that people evolve through on the Hajj. There are the planes of course which like Arafat and there is the circling of these strange rills which are sometimes said to be agricultural terraces which seems a little unlikely to me but more likely to be the remains of some bronze age labyrinth of spiritual significance rather like Borobudur in Indonesia which CMC visited only a couple of years ago.

So really a place that for those who still had a sense of the significance of the British Isles. A great and important magnet. So if you look at the significance of it ; Joseph of Arimathea brings the grail and it’s basically the town of the grail. Now as we saw in a lecture on the Hajj last year. The most reasonable, academic secular if you like, explanation of the grail story is, if you go back to the main medieval, perhaps to the German grail narrative of Wolfram von Eschenbach. You’ll find that he says, he gets the story of the grail from a guy who got it from an Arab in Moorish Spain, who said the grail is a stone that fell from heaven. The idea of it turning black through the sins of humanity and clearly, it’s al-Hajr Aswad, as we said last year, and this is recognized by very many historians. The most likely origin of the Grail legend which is certainly not biblical is that it is al-Hajr al-Aswad – the black stone and amongst all of those crystal cellars and crystal ball gators in Glastonbury this is what they don’t appreciate. The stone !, which is the sign of أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ (Surah7, v 172 – “”Am I not your Lord ?” — alasta be rabbikum– become so full of meaning and if you look at Simon O’Meara’s new amazing book on the Ka’baa – i think it’s the first academic book in English ever on the Ka’baa – he talks a lot about the enormously rich significance of this.
So in Glastonbury, the medieval pilgrim goes there, pays his dues to the abbot of this huge monastery. A benedictine house which has been created there appropriating some of the old pagan energy centers as the new age people will say, but if you look at the map you can see, if you put your back to the church of St Benignos, which is also on an ancient site and you are somewhere around about the spiritual heart of the abbey, which is ruined thanks to Henry viii of course and then you follow the road that everybody must have taken for thousands of years towards the ‘Tor’ (hill) – looks like Jabl al-Noor and you spiral up it to get to the to the summit so that if you’re going from this one sacred center, this temenos to the other – you’re as it were following a straight line and if you look on your ordinance survey map and you get out your compass you’ll see that straight line exactly. If you extend it beyond the ‘Tor’ exactly to within half a degree – ends up at the Ka’baa in Makkah.

Glastonbury Tor – Avalon Marshes
Glastonbury Tor – Avalon Marshes

So it’s an interesting reflection of the divine intention that all of those who understandably not knowing pilgrims in the middle ages – all of those countless thousands of them who went there and then went down that road and they were actually looking for the grail and that road takes you past the chalice well which is like the ZamZam of Glastonbury if you want to make these analogies but that’s exactly the direction that you would follow if you really wanted to go to the grail temple which is evidently the Haram in Makkah, the great sanctuary where the original grail actually is and for centuries Christians including Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table trotted around looking for the grail. The state in the minor industry in new-age writing, where is the grail? what is the grail? it’s a kind of Dan Brown da Vinci code – it’s a huge world in our secular environment. We still want to find it and to know what it was. It’s an interesting moment of the recrudescence or the perpetuation of a sacred symbol in an otherwise very flat age. But the reality is that those pilgrims going from the abbey towards the ‘Tor’ were actually exactly facing the Qibla.

So that’s the divine sign if you like that within the sacred geometries of the United Kingdom and this great orientation there is this line that helps the people unknowingly to face the great sanctuary which is not just significant for Muslims because it’s pre-Muslim it’s Abrahamic it’s a place of resort for mankind and a place of safety even though only the initiated as it were can go there now otherwise you’d have 10 million tourists from Florida with their cameras.

It’s obvious why they’re not allowed in but you have to be initiated through the shahada to approach the final temenos, the great center of the sacred on earth. So that was an interesting thought that i had as I laboured my way up Glastonbury Tor and it’s interesting to see how many people are still seeking something, still feeling something, want to go on that journey, want the grail. You get to the top and there are middle-aged guys walking their dogs and so forth and people chasing their children but there’s also quite a few people meditating facing some direction which they hope is significant but of course, they don’t have the direction. It’s kind of there but not there.

So that was an interesting example of the way in which the yearning for the stone, for the house, for these ancient practices of the sacred well the straight line of the ‘saee’, the circle of the Tawaf – are universal and it’s interesting to note that you can go up the Tor either clockwise or anti-clockwise and this again has very ancient significance. It’s even said that the reason why people in England and India and Japan have always been driving on the left, not the right, is because they were solar civilizations recognizing a solar calendar and a solar divinity and that’s the way the sun moves. If you’re in the northern hemisphere south of the equator, of course, it’s quite different. So those civilizations when they go to their sacred places will go clockwise around them. It’s forgotten now but until living memory, it was a tradition in England if you’re riding your horse or hiking or walking and you came to a church or a cemetery you would always go around it on the left leaving the sacred place on your right, piece of superstition or folklore if you like. That way it’s called deasil which is a very intriguing probably German word that’s the way you go and that tends to be practices of circumambulation in western Christendom where they abolished lunar things and lunar calendars and moved towards the idea of soul Invictus and a solar calendar. But in the Semitic tradition and also in very many ancient pagan traditions the way around a sacred place is what’s called widdershins which is anti-clockwise and actually, they even do that in some Eastern Christian churches.

I’ve noticed if you go to a traditional Greek wedding, which I’d recommend, it’s a very beautiful thing. They walk around the altar and the screen seven times but the way Muslims go around the Ka’baa, anti-clockwise. They still have that ancient pre-solar idea and certainly in Judaism if you’ve been to a Jewish betrothal ceremony – the real thing which traditional weddings are always very beautiful in world religions – the tradition is for the bride to go around the groom seven times. She makes a tawaf around him and she goes widdershins anti-clockwise and the rabbis all agree on that – so her heart is towards the source, towards the sanctuary, towards the place of authority, of khilafah and that, of course, is also what we do on the Hajj.

The Hajj is a very ancient thing as O’Meara talks about in his book where he speaks a lot about the cosmology of the Ka’baa and the stars and the solstices towards which the Ka’baa is oriented. Notes that as we go around the Ka’baa, the heart is on the side of the Ka’baa and we walk around it anti-clockwise seven times because as the religion of fitra Islam is lunar in its calendar and the Quran is quite severe on those who try to introduce extra little bits of months in order to make it comply with with the sun and the symbol of the religion is, of course, the crescent moon and there’s a lot of connections between human biorhythms and the lunar cycles which go back to very very ancient times. Certainly unrecordable and probably impossible really to prove academically but in any case so if you see that you’re heading towards the qibla in Glastonbury surrounded by all of this new age paraphernalia you come to the tor and the preferred way is going widdershins. A lot of these pagan goddesses will be walking probably barefoot with their piercings and their tie-dyed robes alongside with you, which is one reason why a lot of Muslims find the place indigestible, quite understandably because it has been overlaid with this mock paganism. Who knows what the druids really were or what they did but we still want to get away from monotheism and get back to Druidry well good luck. There’s no silsilla, there’s no shajara, there’s no ejaza, it’s an extinct species. You can’t resurrect it any more than you can resurrect the passenger pigeon. It’s gone but the sign that so many people want it is an indication that the idea of The Matter of Britain, the idea of pilgrimage, the idea of these ancient forms, the sacred world, the straight line, the coursing, the sevenfold , all of these things represent something that is profoundly antique and ancient and primordial and healing in human beings because a pilgrimage, a real pilgrimage is a journey not just some external feature but is about inner transformation as well which is the meaning of the talbiyah (تلبية ) – orientation towards the ‘labbaik’* (لَبَّيْكَ )– you don’t say : “Labbaik ya raheem sterling” – we say ” Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik”– so it’s about something.

*Talbiyah : لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik [Here I am O Allaah, (in response to Your call)

So in these days when we as it were circle towards the sacrality of the Hajj even those of us who this year find our hearts attached to the house and imam al-Ghazali and others talk quite a lot about this very remarkable emotion – al-ishtiyaqu illal bayt, he says that’s the beginning of the Hajj longing for the house that when you think about the Ka’baa and the proximity of the Ka’baa and what the Ka’baa represents and the divine forgiveness and erasure of what you’ve done that is there and the closeness to the sakinah, of course, that’s what we want. We have a natural yearning for it its beloved — isn’t the Ka’baa often compared to a beloved in all of our poetry? It’s the veiled Layla -it’s again a very a reminder of the feminine significance of this.

So these are the layaalin ashar — the ten nights and al-ayyam al-ashar and we have a series of hadiths that remind us that the Hajj is for all of us because these ten days are significant for all of us and the hadiths tend to be for some reason in the Tirmidhi, in his sahih, usually called the sahih – it’s a hadith from ibn Abbas in which the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم says

“There is no day of in which there can be righteous action, there are no days which are more beloved to Allah than these 10 days”

and this has been accepted into the fiqh and shariah. This is a special time, a time of not so much calculating the increase of actions but rather the divine love of the intensified things that we do. The Hajj is there the spirit recalls the Ka’baa the qibla becomes more real and therefore the quality of our works is increased. For the devout down the Muslim centuries there’s been an awareness that as you see the full moon, at the moon again growing and the crescent swelling, the Hajj is on its way. The Hajj moon is one of the beautiful things especially we can get away from those arc lights and sodium lights that they put up everywhere but one of the most beautiful features of the Hajj is always the moon.

In hadith, again in the Tirmidhi, the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم used to fast nine days of zul-hijja. You know fast on the day of Eid. But the fast the day of Arafah is particularly important and then later the hadith goes on to talk about the day of Ashura, which is about a month later, and three days in each month. So again we have the idea not just of good works in these 10 days as the crescendo builds up and we’ve become aware of the sacrality that is in times as well as places even we can’t get to the place there’s an intensification of our experience of the time and the fasting is one of the things that are Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلمically counseled at this time in order to sharpen our sense of attentiveness our ihraam style tajrid, or stripping away of our dunya attachments.

So according to a hadith, the culmination of this is the fast of Arafah which is alhamdulillah still very widely observed in the ummah for non-Hajjis at a time when according to the hadith again in Tirmidhi, a successful inwardly balanced and directed and mindful if you like fast of the day of Arafah is an atonement for the sins of the previous year and the next year. You get two years. It doesn’t mean that you can watch Netflix all day and then the sun goes down and you binge and all of the stuff you’ve been doing is magically washed away. No, it’s not as stupid as that. It is about the divine regard for those who are not just on the plane of Arafah sweating and crying and raising their hands in dua when the Lord is proud before the angels: “look at my slaves” He says as He sees the people of Arafat, “they’ve come to me with messy hair suffering from heat, tatty, dusty, I bear witness to you that I have forgiven them”.

Jabal al-Rahmah
Jabal al-Rahmah

So that’s the great miracle of the Hajj, on Arafat, is that somehow despite everything within us and around us there is that erasure. This is where the tears fall, there’s the Mount of Mercy it’s not called the mountain of anger, it’s the Mountain of Mercy. The Hajj is about the approach to the one who is al-rhamar-rahimeen and that’s you know the reality of the divine, is characterized by “He has prescribed mercy upon Himself”, so we can’t be there on that day where the divine recording angels press delete, really delete not kind of recoverable if you pay some IT expert a lot of money to get them back from their scramble state but really delete as if they had never been there. That’s a pretty extraordinary thing when you think about how useless we usually are. That’s the divine mercy but if we can’t be there and most of us can’t be there then to mark it with the fast and with good actions and it’s also recommended for people to give sadaqa and because CMC is in my humble opinion a place where Islam is not celebrated as just an aspect of ancestral inheritance that one is anxious about preserving but as something that points people towards god. We are very theocentric and where the Hajj and everything else in Islam is not just a checklist of fiqh obligations but is a journey to the heart and to the rabbal alameen. Where we try to have a full sunnah, the inward as well as the outward – that CMC in my view represents a good destination in our muddy and ambiguous age for people.

Sadaqa and good deeds are multiplied and aid our attentiveness because the effectiveness of a good deed is not so much measured by its outcome in the akhira which is subject to the divine knowledge and mercy but the unclouding of our hearts. Because our problem, our only problem really is that we’ve forgotten the qibla, we’ve forgotten –the alasta be rabbikum — the significance of the stone and we’re like those meditators on Glastonbury Tor who don’t know what to do. There’s no irshad, they don’t have a qiblah, but they know that they want something and that’s not a good place for us to be. Alhamdulillah Islam in its immutable and ancient and gorgeous practices reconnects us to something that is immutable and absolutely serious that we can go to a place like Glastonbury and know what it indicates.

So we, even though people tend to see our community as the community that really doesn’t belong, a bunch of weird people from beyond, actually turn out to be the people who most belong because we can retrieve this Matter of Britain not in some flag-waving jingoistic inflatable spitfire way but seeing the sacrality and the goodness that can be identified here which points onwards by the divine decree to the great sanctuary the place of the real sakina.

So we ask Allah subhanahu ta’ala to grant us an attentive month of the Hajj to uplift us in this time. To help us perhaps to view films to read books to consider the enormous wonderful majesty of this greatest of all journeys and insha’Alah for those who have not made the Hajj, the Hajj-al-umr (obligatory hajj) to make a strong intention that we will do it sooner rather than later because the Hajj is all majesty and memorable amazingness and to put money aside for another trip to Agadir or Dubai is to misunderstand what really enriches us in life. The Hajj should be number one of our aspirations and insha Alah even if all we have in these 10 days is a redouble determination and love for Allah’s house that will make the time well-spent inshAlah. So may Allah give us a good 10 days.

May Allah subhanahu ta’ala accept our actions accept our intentions, grant us ishtiak. longing for his house insha’Alah. An emotion from which so much is good comes. InshaAlah make us detached from the false pilgrimages of the dunya and focus always in a mindful and modest and loving way on the true qibla and insha Alah, make us people who truly and sincerely say

لَبَّيْكَ ٱللَّٰهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ، لَبَّيْكَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ، إِنَّ ٱلْحَمْدَ وَٱلنِّعْمَةَ لَكَ وَٱلْمُلْكَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَكَ

“I respond to Your call O Allah! I respond to Your call. You have no partner. I respond to Your call. All praise, thanks and blessings are for You. All sovereignty is for You. And You have no partners with You’”

The meaning of that is all you will ever need – returning to the place of origin in love and obedience and ubudiyya, slavehood towards the merciful sakina ,the still peaceable presence of Rabbal alameen, nothing more beautiful. So may Allah subhana wa ta’ala accept our intentions and give us a good 10 days and nights insha’Alah and forgive us and overlook our shortcomings

بارك الله فيكم
وَتَقَبَّلْنَا صِيَامَكُمْ

وَالسلام عليكم ورحمة الله

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