Esoteric Hajj: From the Physical Ka’bah to the Living Imam — by Ismaili Gnostic on Ismaili Gnosis com

Come, I will show you that which is truly the House of God,
Not what you imagine to be the House of God.

Is a House of stone more sacred than the chosen guide
[Muhammad] who established the House?

Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi
(Diwan al-Mu’ayyad, tr. M. Adra, Mount of Knowledge, Sword of Eloquence , 189)

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This article will explain the exoteric (ẓāhir), the esoteric (bāṭin), and ḥaqīqī (real) dimensions of the ḥajj (pilgrimage), the Ka‘ba (House of God, the Sacred Masjid) and the qiblah (direction of prayer). The ẓāhir belongs to domain of the sharī‘ah, the bāṭin is the path of the ṭarīqah, and the bāṭin al-bāṭin are the realities of the ḥaqīqah. Thus, there is a specific ḥajj, Ka‘bah, and qiblah for each of these three domains: each level serves as the symbol (mithāl) for the higher level and the inner meaning (ta’wīl) of the lower level. The ẓahir is a symbol of the bāṭin and the bāṭin is the esoteric meaning of the ẓāhir. It is likewise for the bāṭin and the bāṭin al-bāṭin.

The Arabic root of the word ḥajj, means “to overcome with argument, to convince, to advance, to betake oneself with a purpose.” The word ḥujjah (proof, argument) is derived from the same root letters. The word Ka‘bah means “cube” and also carries the meaning of being “full” or “honoured”. The Arabic root of the word qiblah means “to be face to face”.

We will first explain the historical context and the exoteric (ẓāhirī) dimensions of the ḥajj, the Ka‘bah, and the qiblah in great detail. Each of these details has a specific ta’wīl (esoteric interpretation) in the realm of the bāṭinī ṭarīqah, which cannot be fully appreciated unless one first understands the ẓāhirī sharī‘ah dimensions. The five sections of this comprehensive article on Hajj are as follows:

The Exoteric Hajj to the Physical House of God

The Exoteric Qiblah of the Physical Body

The Esoteric Hajj to the Living House of God

The Esoteric Qiblah of the Rational Soul

The Ḥaqīqī House of God and the Ḥaqīqī Qiblah


The Exoteric Ḥajj to the Physical House of God

Hajj Pilgrims circumambulating the Ka’bah

Hajj Pilgrims circumambulating the Ka’bah

And pilgrimage to the House (al-bayt) is a duty [from] God for mankind, for him who has the means todo so. As for him who disbelieveth, (let him know that) lo! Allah is Independent of (all) creatures.

– Holy Qur’ān 3:97

The exoteric meaning of the House of God (bayt Allāh), according to the Qur’ān, is the Ka‘bah in Makkah. In several Qur’ānic verses, the Ka‘bah is called “the House” (al-bayt) [Qur’ān 2:125], “the ancient House” (al-bayt al-‘atīq) [Qur’ān 22:29], “My House” (baytī) [Qur’ān 2:215], a “House established for mankind” (baytin wudi‘a li’n-nas) [3:96], “the Sacred House” (al-bayt al-ḥarām) [Qur’ān 5:97], “the Sacred Place of Prostration” (al-masjid al-ḥarām) [Qur’ān 2:144].

But one must ask – from what or whom does the Ka‘bah derive its sacred and exalted status? For a House merely made of stone cannot possess any inherent holiness as it is composed of the same matter in all physical things. According to the Qur’ān, the Ka‘bah was established by Prophet Abraham and his son Mawlānā Ismā‘īl by the command of God.

And when We made the House (al-bayt) a resort for mankind and sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham stood (to pray). And We imposed a duty upon Abraham and Ismā‘īl, (saying): Purify My house (ṭahirā baytī) for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves.

– Holy Qur’ān 2:125

And when Abraham and Ismā‘īl were raising the foundations (yarfa‘u al-qawā‘id) of the House, [Abraham prayed]: Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! Make us submitters (muslimīn) unto Thee and of our descendants (dhurriyyatinā) a nation submissive (ummatan muslimah) unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Relenting, the Merciful.

– Holy Qur’ān 2:127-28



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