Events and Holidays Islam

Hajj and the Connection Between the Spiritual and the Physical – How do physical acts of worship affect our spirituality?

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Sarmad Naveed, Canada

Watching millions circle the Holy Ka’bah during Hajj, the obligatory Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah, is truly a majestic sight. This pilgrimage is followed by Eid al-Adha, one of two major Muslim holidays, which is often commemorated with the sacrifice of an animal.

But circling the Ka’bah and sacrificing animals are physical acts. What do they have to do with our spirituality? After all, Islam promotes the development of our inner spirituality; our purpose is to cleanse and purify our souls, which is all that will be left of us in the afterlife. So the question is why there is such an emphasis on physical acts of worship in Islam, from fasting during Ramadan, circling the Ka’bah during Hajj, or the changing of postures in the obligatory prayers.

Islam Recognises the Bond Between the Physical and the Spiritual

It is true that Islam promotes the purification of the soul and the attainment of righteousness. God Almighty stipulates in the Holy Qur’an that the most honourable in the sight of God are the righteous [1], not those with any sort of physical or outward superiority.

But Islam also recognises the natural bond between the physical and the spiritual, a bond that is necessary to achieve inner purity and righteousness. As the Promised Messiah and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), points out, ‘Islam is inherent in man’s nature and man has been created in accord with Islam.’[2]

Islam concords with human nature because the physical and spiritual are integrally intertwined. As the Promised Messiah (as) puts it, ‘Physical conditions deeply affect the soul.’[3] This incontrovertible reality is reflected in Islamic teachings. Indeed, popular research indicates that our outward demeanour affects how we feel inside. For example, studies seem to indicate that smiling and acting happy can make us feel happier. [4] So what we do physically does, in fact, affect us on the inside.

Take, for example, the Muslim prayer – an expression of meekness and humility, and the greatest means for inner purification. It requires no physical objects, no visuals to look at while praying; it is a matter of simply being one with God. Yet the physical components enhance the spiritual experience. 

Physical and Spiritual Purity

Nothing is more telling than the way in which the Holy Prophet (sa) chose to introduce the five daily prayers to his companions. He likened it to bathing five times a day, saying that offering the five daily prayers has the same spiritual effect as the physical effect of bathing five times a day; there can be no filth left.[5]

Indeed, one of the components of Islamic prayer is the ablution, performed before every prayer, in which a believer washes their hands, arms, feet, and face. Though the ensuing prayer is entirely spiritual, the underlying impact of physical purity upon spiritual purity is vital. Thus, God Almighty expresses His love for those who maintain both outer and inner purity.[6] As the Promised Messiah (as) explains, ‘Anyone who desires to develop an inner state of purity must also be physically clean as well.’[7]

Physical and Spiritual States in Prayer

As for the prayer itself, one may see the various positions and prostrations as mere rituals, but the reality is that every movement and action has been ordained with meticulous precision in order to foster and reflect the desired spiritual state at that moment. 

For example, the prayer begins with the declaration, ‘All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds,’ and one continues to glorify God and His majesty. At this juncture, one stands upright, with their arms folded in front. It is a sign of respect to stand upright in the presence of a higher majesty. Furthermore, when praising God, attesting to Him being the absolute Greatest, Possessor of All Power and the only One worthy of all praise, one must be completely resolute and stand firm in this conviction. Thus, one physically stands upright, symbolising the spiritual fortitude and resolve of their belief in God. Subsequently, as the Promised Messiah (as) explains, ‘When a person accepts this fact with complete open-heartedness, this is known as qiyam or ‘standing’ in the spiritual sense.’  Thus, ‘Not only does the body stand but the soul stands as well.’[8]

Then, one bows while saying, ‘Holy is my Lord, the Most Great’. Upon realising God’s awesome might, grandeur and power, the natural inclination is to bow. Simply, ‘Greatness constitutes bowing.’ Thus, ‘Not only does this person acknowledge His greatness, but he also bows as too does his soul.’[9]

Then, one falls prostrate to the ground, saying, ‘Holy is my Lord, the most High.’ It is as if one cannot help but fall upon the threshold of the sheer majesty he has just recognised. But not only has the body prostrated, rather, ‘upon realising His majesty, the soul has also fallen upon the divine threshold.’[10]

In this way, the physical actions either help bring about a similar spiritual state, or the spiritual state is so strong that the body is left with no choice but to replicate that which the soul experiences. Thus, the physical and the spiritual mirror one another. 

The Essence of the Rites of Hajj

The rites of Hajj, such as circling around the Holy Ka’bah, or kissing the Black Stone, believed to have been sent by God, are no different. Hajj, in its essence, is an expression of extreme love. The Promised Messiah(as) beautifully describes it in this way: 

‘This commandment has been given so that one may physically express their fervent love and affection…this physical fervour brings about a spiritual warmth and love; so while the body circulates around this House and kisses the cornerstone of [His] threshold, at the same time, the spirit revolves around the true Beloved and kisses His spiritual threshold.’[11]

As mere physical objects, the building of the Ka’bah and the Black Stone hold no inherent value; their value lies only in that which they represent. This concept is perfectly encapsulated in the words of the Second Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar (ra), who, after kissing the Black Stone, said, ‘I know you are a stone and can neither benefit nor harm anyone. Had I not seen the Messenger of Allah (sa) kissing you, I would not have kissed you.’ [12]

The Festival of Sacrifice: A Deeper Meaning

EId al-Adha commemorates the exemplary sacrifices made by Abraham (as) and his son Ishmael (as). Abraham (as) saw
a dream that indicated he was to sacrifice Ishmael (as) – his only son at the time. He broached the matter to his son, who replied that he was ready for this sacrifice and to do as his Lord commanded.
However, as Abraham (as) was about to perform the sacrifice, Allah informed them that they had fulfilled the dream in spirit, and to slaughter a ram as a physical display of sacrifice.

Another great sacrifice was when Abraham (as) was commanded by God to leave both Hagar (as), his wife, and Ishmael (as) in the wilderness, where Makkah stands today. At the time, Hagar (as) desperately ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa, looking for water and support. She too, just like Ishmael (as), understood it was only the command of God which could cause him to leave those dearest to him with no resources. This was an extreme sacrifice which clearly displayed the Prophet Abraham’s (as) trust in God.

In both cases, Abraham (as) and Ishmael (as) were ready to make the physical sacrifices that God asked of them. But the purpose of those sacrifices was not merely their physical manifestation. As God Almighty explicitly states, ‘Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches Him’.[13] This statement is unequivocal; just as the primary purport for Abraham (as) was not the sacrifice itself, but his obedience to God, so too is the purpose of emulating his sacrifice.

This concept is remarkably explained by the Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba):

‘These apparent sacrifices are to give a jolt to our souls, to explain that just as this lesser being has been sacrificed for you, so too is it the mark of a true believer to always remain ready for any sacrifice in acting upon the commandments of God Almighty. Prepare your body and your soul for sacrifice. Increase in your level of righteousness.’[2]

Thousands, if not millions of animals are slaughtered every day, and so, merely sacrificing an animal for Eid al-Adha holds no value in itself. However, when the sacrifice is carried out with a greater purpose, a higher intention, with righteousness as the primary goal, then the physical act of sacrifice becomes a symbol of great importance.

For a true believer, an action is never merely an action, but each and every action is a vessel for the attainment of spiritual heights, for the attainment of righteousness; a vessel to reach God.

About the Author: Sarmad Naveed is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who graduated from the Ahmadiyya Institute for Languages and Theology in Canada. He serves as Online Editor and is on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and coordinates the Facts from Fiction section. He has also appeared as a panellist and host of programmes on Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) such as ‘Ahmadiyyat: Roots to Branches.’


  1. The Holy Qur’an 49:14.
  2. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2017), 159.
  3. Ibid, 9.
  4. Anna Guildford, “Is Fake Smiling Enough to Improve Your Mood?,” Medical News Today. 25 October, 2022.
  5. Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Mawaqit al-Salah.
  6. The Holy Qur’an, 2:223.
  7. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), Malfuzat –Vol. I (Farnham, Surrey: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2018), 254.
  8. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), Malfuzat – Vol. II (Farnham, Surrey: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2019), 148-149.
  9. Ibid, 149.
  10. Ibid, 149.
  11. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), Chashmae-Ma’rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 23 (Farnham, Surrey: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2021), 99-101.
  12. Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Hajj.
  13. The Holy Qur’an 22:38.
  14. Eid al-Adha Sermon delivered by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) – 12th August 2019