Hajj Hands

We are nearing the end of the Islamic holy month of Dhul-Hijjah, the month of Hajj, in the Muslim year of 1439. In about nine days time, depending upon the sighting of the new moon, we will move into another Islamic holy month, Muharram, which will be the first month of year 1440 of the Islamic calendar.

The annual pilgrimage of Hajj is now over and most of the two-million-plus visitors to the holy land in Saudi Arabia will have gone back home, hoping they are spiritually reborn. With Hajj and the following Eid-Al-Adha celebrations still fresh in my mind, I thought it would be good to share a few of the better related articles I have recently come across. The three short articles chosen are written from a positive, honest, and personal experience, and they are presented below in full. I hope they provide a new and fresh insight into what Hajj and Eid mean to us Muslims.

I also came across a few interesting photo blogs from the Sunday Express, the Birmingham Mail, the Associated Press, and the UAE National. Some of the pictures are just simply breath-taking. If you get a chance please have a look. As always, enjoy!

Hajj Aqsa

A Palestinian man throws his child in the air following morning prayers marking the first day of Eid-Al-Adha celebrations, on the compound known to Muslims as Al-Haram-Al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.

What All Americans Can Learn From Hajj

The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca offers a model of unity in a culture divided by tribalism.

Tasmiha Khan, 15 Aug 2018, salon.com

Identity is what makes up the fabric of our communities, and connects us to our neighbors. It gives us a sense of belonging and security. But there’s a flip side: in the process of interacting with only those who are like us, we can alienate ourselves from greater society, sticking with our so-called “tribe.” In the past, tribalism has taken many forms: we’ve looked down upon caste systems. We’ve deepened the divide between the rich and the poor. As much progress as we like to think we’ve made, if you look around us there are also many degrees of separation. Are you Democratic or Republican? Suburban or rural? College graduate or drop-out? Tribalism is real and it is taking place in our own metaphorical backyards, under the guise of labels we don’t even feel comfortable discussing. Fortunately, we have moments such as the Hajj season to teach us how to come together despite our differences.

On a personal level, Hajj helps me situate myself in this world. As a Muslim American woman who chooses to observe the rules and regulations of hijab — literally, the veil — people often mistake me for foreign, although I was born here in the United States. With Ramadan passing and now Dhul-Hijjah, I look to my faith, Islam, to reflect and find meaning of my footing in this world for both myself and those around me.

Dhul-Hijjah marks the last month of the Islamic lunar year where one of the major pillars of Islam take place known as the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, that occurs between the eighth and 13th days of the month commemorating both Prophet Muhammad and Abraham.

During Hajj, Muslim pilgrims perform a series of rituals that dissolve the barriers between them. These rituals trace back 1,400 years, and their symbolism embodies unity among all believers: there is no distinction among people. More than two million Muslims show up to Mecca to complete these rites, as is obligatory on anyone who is financially and physically able to do so. All of us camp out in and around the Grand Mosque, The Kabah, and the surrounding vicinities such as Mount Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifa. There is a common thread among all: unity.

Hajj is considered to be one of the largest gatherings on earth, and with the high density of people in such close quarters, reality is stripped of all luxury. This experience allows one to be thankful for the blessings one has. It doesn’t matter if I’m American or born to immigrants. It doesn’t matter if I am a citizen or naturalized. It doesn’t matter how much I can earn or donate. What matters is my relationship to God and how I treat others around me out of love and fear for Him. Thus, I try my best to make it a point to engage in conversations with those who are dissimilar to me to debunk myths and promote cooperation.

As I take a moment to reflect on what this Hajj will mean for my community, I hope that mainstream society can also learn from Muslims. While Hajj is indeed a religious occurrence, it does not exclude individuals of other faiths — or no faith — from learning lessons of unity and sacrifice. Perhaps showing more compassion and kindness would allow us to flourish as a nation. Perhaps empathizing and lending a hand to the less fortunate would allow us to prosper as a society. Perhaps the problems within us can be lightened by lending a hand to those who may need it. The sky is truly the limit.

Hajj Quezon

Eid-Al-Adha at a public park in Quezon City, Philippines.

Eid Is A Chance To Celebrate The Wonderful Muslim Community That Shaped Who I Am Today

The best way to honour that is to be that backbone for others and pay it forward.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, 21 Aug 2018, independent.co.uk

The meaning of Eid changes as you age, but like many religious festivals, it serves as a moment in time to come back to community. Whether it’s the “small” Eid after Ramadan (Eid-ul-Fitr) or the “big” one a few months later (Eid-ul-Adha), there is something about interrupting daily life for celebration and worship that never gets old.

Growing up, Eid wasn’t just the one day of prayer. It involved weeks of excitement in the lead up, such as shopping with my mother and choosing a new special outfit for the day. The house would be scoured until it gleamed (the Muslim version of a spring clean), and the requisite sweets were baked (or bought) before being duly laid out on heavily garnished trays for the visitors who would flood the house during the festivities. On the morning of, my father would wake us all up just as the sun rose, and we would go to pray.

These are my foundational memories of “community” as a child. Walking towards the large field behind the local Muslim school towards the lines of shiny blue tarpaulin that had been laid out before dawn and hearing the sonorous, soothing chant of worship wash over me: “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. La ilaha illa Allah, Allah Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa lilahi alhamd.” Smiling at each other as we passed, wishing friends and strangers alike an “Eid Mubarak”, blessings on blessings, good tidings for the year ahead.

Aunties – blood relatives or not – who I hadn’t seen in for a year would coo over “how much I’d grown”, uncles would loudly clasp each other’s forearms in greeting, friends would compare outfits. There would be food, laughter, and the soft drink and tea was always flowing. And although I didn’t realise it at the time, these people were the people who were moulding me into the person I am today.

As I grew older, I moved away. I started working on oil and gas rigs, and would spend Eid calling family and smiling nostalgically at photos on my social media feeds. Settling into adult life, Eid was now spent with friends in different cities around the world. We learnt to create our own rituals and traditions, but as it turned out, they always had something in common with our childhood experiences. No matter where we were from, we found ourselves striving to replicate that feeling: yearning for a sense of belonging, meaning, and ultimately, community.

The Muslim “community” is often referred to as a single monolithic entity, but rest assured that not all Muslims share the same conception of it, or even believe themselves to be a part of it. Are we all part of a “community” by default? How important are they? And how much of ourselves do we owe to them?

Spending time and energy thinking about and investing in the communal rather than the individual may seem quaint, old-school even, in a world inundated with messages of individual success. But it is worth tempering the hubris and remembering how much of who we are is a matter of chance. Our parents, our early education and even our place of birth have significant impacts on our lives and chances of “success”. Behind every winner is an army of people who have made it possible: a coach, a dedicated teacher, a mother working double shifts.

My achievements would have been impossible if it weren’t for my parents and the people who surrounded me growing up. The best way to honour that is to be that backbone for others. Pay it forward, if you will. After all, isn’t that what community is all about?

Eid Mubarak!

Hajj Girl

A girl joins a prayer to mark the first day of Eid-Al-Adha in Gaza City on Tuesday 21st August 2018.

What I Learnt On Hajj: It’s No Picnic, But Then It Was Never Meant To Be

The annual pilgrimage provided me insights and lessons that I use daily.

Saeed Saeed, 23 Aug 2018, thenational.ae

Whenever people are about to embark on the religious Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah, they seem to feel the need to ask advice from those who have already done it.

Because every Hajj is unique to each worshipper, the questions mostly revolve around practical tips on how to navigate a two-million-strong sea of white-robed pilgrims.

But my advice to my Mauritanian friend Yassine, who performed the Hajj this year, was all about what happens after the fact, and how he will feel when he returns to Abu Dhabi next week. “That’s when your real challenges begin,” I said.

I understood his miffed expression, because I had the same reaction when, eight years ago, before travelling to the Hajj from Melbourne, an Australian teacher called Sara told me just that.

“What is she talking about?” I thought. “The challenge is to actually survive the Hajj.”

As someone who isn’t comfortable in large crowds, I thought the pilgrimage would be the most challenging experience of my life. And in a way, it was.

To describe the Hajj as gruelling is an understatement. For nearly a week, you are following a regimen that is both spiritual and physical. Daily prayers are mixed with walks to worship stations alongside millions of people from different languages and cultures.

While that sea of humanity is a beautiful thing to witness, it can be quite frustrating, too. There were plenty of moments when I came close to losing my temper with other pilgrims in my Hajj group – one was constantly complaining about the facilities and the heat, while the other was always late to the bus, causing us to get stuck in endless traffic jams.

I resolved to keep my mouth shut, and hoped my muttered prayers would assuage my grievances. But even that was a worry. I was mentally running myself ragged in my quest to seek a spiritual high. I was concerned that, despite my efforts and the hefty sum of money I paid to make the Hajj, I wasn’t “feeling it”, so to speak.

But like the physical world, the spiritual realm can also be subject to the rule of hindsight. For me, the Hajj was indeed no picnic but, on reflection, isn’t that the point?

The lack of sleep, the gruelling tawaf (circumambulation) of the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and standing in the heat on top of Mount Arafat allowed me to discover hidden reserves of stamina and resilience I never thought I possessed.

The daily prayers offered in congregation gave me an understanding that a spiritual life is not about chasing one feeling, but is instead an evolving process that needs to be constantly nourished and refined.

Instead of an entirely new beginning, I learnt that the Hajj gave me the tools to begin to make the internal changes I seek. And that’s where the challenges that Sara spoke of lay. Gleaning those insights is one thing, but to use them in life to be the best version of myself remains a tiring and daunting process.

It is the equivalent of climbing Mount Arafat daily, and constantly stumbling on the way. But, with the map and the tool kit that the Hajj provided me, at least I knew which direction to head in.

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