Alhijra Islamic School may be a long way from Saudi Arabia, but that didn’t stop students from celebrating an important spiritual occasion recently.
On Oct. 18, staff and students at the St. Boniface-based school held their own Hajj Day to celebrate the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.
It’s considered one of the largest pilgrimages in the world (approximately three million Muslims went last year) and is the fifth pillar of Islam — a religious duty that must be carried out by every able-bodied Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime if they can afford to do so, said school principal Abed Moussa.
Fouad Elmazini, Alhijra’s Islamic and French teacher, said to perform Hajj (which is connected to the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad) each pilgrim must enter the sacred state of Ihram — a spiritual state of purity when the individual must not "quarrel or commit any act of violence."
During this state, males traditionally wear two pieces of unsewn white cloth and females wear a dress and head covering, but not a veil, Elmazini said. On the school’s Hajj Day, students walked around the Kabba (a sacred Islamic site) counter-clockwise seven times to demonstrate unity.
Elmazini, who lives in Waverley West, said the celebration was a valuable experience for the students.
"Most of our students were born here in Canada, so this is teaching them to be humble and not distinguish between rich or poor or black and white," he said.
"I was surprised with the energy of the students. They did very well and I’m very proud of them. They were eager to perform in front the other students. Their parents were excited, too, and helped with some of the clothing."
Nuria Abbawajii, 11, was happy to participate because her uncle has been to Mecca: "It makes it personal because of my uncle."
"It was really nice to have this opportunity," said Abbawajii, who lives in St. Vital. "It was good to experience how other people get to do this."
St. Vital resident Abdulsatar Hassan, 11, said Hajj Day was a good experience "emotionally and spiritually."
"At this time of year, people spend a lot of money to go to Hajj in Saudi Arabia. This has helped me get to know the procedures right here in Winnipeg," he said.
Moussa, who lives in River Park South, said the event reflected the school’s affiliation with UNESCO and its culture of peace: "We came together in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood."
Founded in 1996, the school has grown to meet the needs of Winnipeg’s growing Islamic community from one or two rented rooms in a St. Boniface church to its current location at 410 Desalaberry Ave. and a student population of 220.
"We now have students from more than 20 different diverse nations. Here, we are busy living, working and learning in peace," said Moussa, noting Alhijra’s board chair Abdo El Tassi has been a driving force behind the school’s development.
The school has students from across the city, including downtown, Elmwood, St. James and the North End, Moussa said.
For more information, visit www.alhijra.ca.