The COVID Hajj


There are very few gatherings on the face of the Earth which capture more of the world’s imagination than the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Every year, over two million Muslims (out of a staggering 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide) from every country on the planet embark on this once-in-a-lifetime journey to fulfill the fifth foundational pillar of Islam.

Just the aesthetic beauty and power of seeing so many people from every race congregate together in Mecca can be overwhelming. Imagine yourself in a sold-out football stadium with 80,000 people and then multiply that 25 times. In terms of economic impact, the Hajj (and lesser Umrah) pilgrimage generates about $12 billion in revenue for Saudi Arabia.

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the number of people taking part this week to 1,000 total. The spiritual lessons of the Hajj, however, feel more relevant than ever.

The two million Muslims who participate in a typical year are called to reflect on the story of the prophet Abraham’s wife Hagar, an African woman and the first person to perform many of the Hajj rituals which pilgrims follow today. The perseverance celebrated in those acts is also personified in the stories of Abraham and their son, Ishmael, both of whom sacrificed their own personal feelings to perform selfless acts of sacrifice and obedience.

Today, the COVID-19 epidemic has forced Muslims (and practicing believers of other faiths) all over the world to reassess how we might fulfill our spiritual commitments and religious obligations in these unprecedented circumstances. Just a few months ago, during our holy month of Ramadan, the global Muslim community was forced to figure out how to navigate fasting for 30 days without praying inside our mosques or visiting our families. Many of us resorted to holding “Zoom iftars” every night to break our fast while chatting with our friends and families.

“It is the dream of every Muslim believer to visit Mecca and do the Hajj,” a 61-year-old Lebanese pilgrim told The New York Times. “But the pandemic came with no warning and took away that dream.” Many Muslims save up their entire life savings to perform the Hajj pilgrimage once before they die, since it can cost upwards of $10,000 for one person to travel the entire path. As a cultural touchstone, the successful completion of the Hajj conveys such religious status for some people that many Muslims either add the honorary term “Hajji” before their first names on their business cards or add the term “El Hajj” before their names (Malcolm X changed his name to “El Hajj Malik El Shabazz” after his Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca).

“The Hajj is a transformative, emotional, and spiritually moving experience — the spiritual pinnacle of a devout Muslim’s life,” according to Yasir Qadhi, dean of the Islamic Seminary of America.

Yet as we acknowledge the personal sacrifice made by Muslims who may have foregone plans to make the pilgrimage this year, we also remember that …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


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