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The universal message of Hajj: We are one people

We are approaching the month for which Muslims prepare to go on Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam. The coming month, “Dhul Al Hajj,” is the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In the Holy Quran, God encourages Muslims who are able to do so to go on Hajj in order to reinvigorate their spiritual commitment to serving God.

Not everyone can actually make the journey. You should be totally free of debt before embarking on hajj. Your family must be provided for fully while you are on hajj. You should have a safe means of going on hajj. You should not go on hajj if your health is not sufficiently robust to handle the rigors of the hajj.

Having gone on hajj twice, I know doing all the rituals simultaneously with 3-4 million other people is very demanding. In Islam, these rituals replicate efforts made by our common spiritual ancestor Abraham, his wife Hajjar, and son Ishmael, and precedent set by the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

The hajj starts with the pilgrim doing ablutions and declaring his or her intention to perform hajj on entering the precincts of the Holy City of Makkah. At this time, men remove all attributes of social standing, authority or wealth. Men wear only two white terrycloth sheets; one wrapped around the waist, past the knees, and the other draped over the shoulders and torso. This is called the state of Ihram or purity. It is impossible to know anything about the person except that he is a pilgrim seeking God’s forgiveness and blessing. Where you are from and who you are on Earth are immaterial. Women dress modestly, covering their head but showing their faces.

On the eighth day of the month, pilgrims move to spend the next few days in a tent city outside of Makkah, called Mina where the Prophet (pbuh) camped when reaching a peace accord with those who had persecuted him, the Quraish, who agreed in 632 CE Muslims could resume the hajj as originally initiated by Abraham.

The ninth day is dedicated to prayer on the nearby Mount and Plain of Arafat, where Muslims believe Adam and Eve met on Earth after descending from Heaven. On this day, Muslims renew their dedication to worshiping only God, asking God’s forgiveness for past transgressions and omissions. Prayers of repentance on Arafat are an essential, obligatory part of hajj.

Resonating with all Muslims performing hajj are the words the Prophet (pbuh) said at his last sermon given at Arafat: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; [none has superiority over another] except by piety and good action.”

The next morning on the 10th day, pilgrims throw seven pebbles at a stone wall reenacting Abraham’s rejection of Satan’s seductions. Pilgrims remind themselves that enormous wealth, secular power and multiple social connections are transient temptations. God alone remains immutable.

Pilgrims then circumambulate seven times the Kaaba, the first temple dedicated to the One God, built by Abraham and Ishmael. As seen on television, it is a stone building, covered with a black cloth, located in the middle of the Masjid Haram. Pilgrims also cover seven times the distance between two hills, Safa and Marwa, replicating the search for succor by Hajjar, Abraham’s wife.

The tenth day culminates with the sacrifice of a ram, commemorating the sacrifice Abraham made in obedience to God. Completing the hajj coincides with the Muslim celebration Eid Al Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. Muslims celebrate God’s Compassion and Mercy.

While the Eid Al Adha on Aug. 11 is a time of celebration for Muslims, this date this year coincides with a much more solemn occasion for our Jewish brothers and sisters who will be observing Tish B’Av which commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and again by the Romans in 70 CE. Their sorrow is our sorrow.

In the past 12 months, forces of destruction have tried again to divide us. This past year we have responded, an attack on anyone of us is an attack on all of us. Around the world and in this area especially, Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities joined in solidarity with citizens of all faiths and political persuasions to show we are united in rejecting acts of violence and the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness from any source. We stand together, stronger and more vigilant. We pray God gives us all guidance; with greater tolerance of each other, patience with each other, and charity for each other. Martin Bentz is the outreach coordinator of the Islamic Society of Southeastern Massachusetts, South Dartmouth: martin.issmass@hotmail.com / issmass.org

Martin Bentz

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