More than 12,000 American faithful will invade Mecca over the next few days to perform the Hajj, the fifth mandatory duty of Muslims (the other four being belief in God, prayers, charity and fasting).
The Hajj is a re-enactment of the rituals of the great biblical prophets. Pilgrims symbolically relive Adam and Eve’s exile and atonement. They also retrace the frantic footsteps of Abraham’s wife, Hagar, as she searched for water for her baby (which according to Muslim tradition, God answered with the well of Zam Zam). Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. God later substituted a ram.
Yet, the Hajj is far more than these elaborate rituals. The faithful hope to spiritually better themselves. Scholars say that without this transformation, the Hajj was merely an empty physical exercise. As all great religions teach, humans possess an essence beyond the material. Indeed, this is why all great traditions include a pilgrimage. Hajj encapsulates this spiritual journey for Muslims and imparts great lessons.
As Islamic scholar Ebrahim Moosa asks rhetorically: “after paying homage to the two women Eve and Hagar in the rites of pilgrimage, how can some Muslims still violate the rights and dignity of women in the name of Islam?”
The Quran teaches: “I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in my way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other.” (3:195) Clearly, the white sea of men and women circling the Kaaba (the black draped building Muslims believe was originally built by Adam) side by side should lay to rest any claim that Islam — as opposed to some Muslims — degrades women.
The fact that millions of Muslims from diverse backgrounds become one, attests to the universality of the Hajj. It plants the seed to celebrate the diversity of our common humanity. Pilgrims return home enriched by a more pluralistic outlook and a new appreciation for their own origins.
The link to the Abrahamic heritage and Islamic teaching of our common humanity holds out much hope. Indeed, the Quran teaches: “We created you from a single pair of a male and female (Adam and Eve), and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other and not that you might despise each other.” (Al Hujurat: 13). This is a great celebration of the diversity and unity of humanity.
Another spiritual message is one of humility. The multitude of people and their beliefs are to be judged by God alone. The Quran insists, “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith ...” (2: 256)
A successful Hajj brings inner peace, manifested outwardly in the values of equality, justice, forgiveness and brotherhood. These are truly indispensable values for us today.