Muslims across the world are in high gear preparing for the annual pilgrimage (hajj) season to Mecca.
This year's pilgrimage journey begins in early November. The actual pilgrimage takes about five days, during which the pilgrims spend their time between Mecca and three different proximate locations. In those five days, the pilgrims immerse themselves in devotion, meditation, prayers and supplications.
The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the largest, oldest and most diverse gatherings in the world. Pilgrims from every corner of the world flock in earnest to Mecca, representing almost every ethnicity, race, custom, language and social class.
Included among this huge sea of humanity are hundreds of Canadians and tens of Manitobans. Going for hajj is a cherished dream for Muslims. It is a once-in-lifetime obligation on all capable Muslims. The places where the pilgrims gather are made up of difficult terrains, extremely dry and unhospitable weather; yet these places command a unique global reverence and appeal. Following Prophet Abraham's building of the Kabba, as believed by Muslims, centuries ago, pilgrimage to Mecca has been an annual uninterrupted global event.
The hajj has many rituals. These rituals are rich in symbolism, metaphor, mystics and spirituality.
All pilgrims dress in a simple two-piece white garment. They spend their time in simple makeshift tents and move in unison in large or small groups. This exercise is a profoundly humbling experience that reminds the pilgrims of their simple origin, their fraternity, and their common destiny.
The pilgrims, despite all their diversity, walk, stand and pray side by side; manifesting the Qur'anic call, "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you..." Qur'an 49:13.
As the pilgrims walk through the valleys of Arafat, during the peak of hajj, they can feel the echoes of Prophet Muhammad's call made 1,400 years ago to an estimated crowd of 100,000: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action... "
Malcolm X, who had his first hajj experience in 1964, noted, "There were tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. They were of all colours, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skin Africans. We were all participating in the same rituals, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."
During hajj, the pilgrims are not allowed to cut any plant, hunt an animal or engage in dispute and quarrel. This is a time and place of serenity, peace and harmony.
Pilgrims can take with them this experience to be more environmentally conscious and to respect and honour fellow humans and all creatures of God. The ritual of throwing pebbles in commemoration of Prophet Abraham's rejection of Satan's temptation is a metaphorical resolution to start a new life, shun vice and resist evil temptations. On the whole, hajj is a reminder of the need to subdue one's ego, to humble to the will of the creator, to self-restraint, to share, to reach out and to respect others.
Pilgrims return carrying with them lasting impressions. The ones who go beyond the rituals and genuinely delve into the deeper meaning of the rituals, come back with the most compelling spiritual experience. Pilgrims, who fully experience hajj's spiritual virtues, come back better connected to their lord, more humane, fully refreshed and greatly embellished in their character. Prophet Muhammad said: "Whoever performs the hajj and commits no lustful act during it nor disobeys God, shall return from it as pure and sinless as he was at the time of his birth."
Ismael Mukhtar is the editor of the Manitoba Muslim magazine.