From every crevice of the planet, millions of old Pakistani men, Indonesian toddlers, young American women, Syrian newlyweds, Sudanese mothers and Bosnian fathers will perform a two-week emigration that will culminate itself at the holiest of shrines in the epicenter of the Muslim world. For those with the blessing of this migration, it is the zenith of their lifetime and for the over one billion who cannot attend, they pray earnestly that one day, they too will be called to perform the sacred pilgrimage of Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Each year, almost three million Muslims, representing every single country in the entire world, congregate to perform Hajj. The pilgrimage to Mecca is symbolically, physically and spiritually the most intense and demanding of Islamic obligations. Each Muslim, if they meet certain health and financial standards, is mandated to perform the annual pilgrimage at least one time within their lifetimes. There are many different aspects to performing a customary Hajj. The first concept is the concept of the hijra, or the physical migration from one’s home to Mecca. The second major test is the struggle against one’s inner ego and revelries, what Freud called the “lower self”. The Hajj of today represents the struggles and messages of prophets past, and is a testament to every Muslim’s belief in Allah, the monotheistic deity of the prophet Abraham (may peace be upon him).
The ancient rites of Hajj have been passed down through the annals of Islamic history. It serves as a constant reminder of our human mortality and fallibility. The different rites of Hajj exemplify the plights of our beloved prophets. During Hajj, every Muslim’s focused aspirations must be to re-enact the experiences of the Prophet Abraham, whose selfless sacrifice has no parallel in the history of humankind. Hajj also symbolizes the lessons taught by Abraham’s son, Prophet Ismail (peace be upon him), whose example of obedience and submission cannot be duplicated by any living being; and the final prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him), who firmly stood on the plains of Arafat and proclaimed the completion of his mission which solidified and sealed the Sovereignty of One Creator over all of creation.
Undoubtedly the simplest, yet most profound message of Islam is the concept of the equality of all mankind. In Islam, there is no superiority based on race, socioeconomic status or level of education. The prophet Muhammad taught all Muslims that a person only excels over another in their piety. Although not seen throughout most of the year, there is never more equality in the Muslim world than at Hajj. Princes and paupers, sultans and street sweepers, all covered in the traditional white garb; invoke the mercy of God as they stand by side, equal in the eyes of their Creator.
The closing of Hajj is culminated in the celebration of Eid ul-Adha. This celebration commemorates the great act of obedience to Allah by the Prophet Abraham in showing his willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail. Allah accepted his sacrifice and replaced Prophet Ismail with a lamb. This show of love and piety by Abraham should be taken as an example for every living man, woman and child as we struggle through uncertain times which have managed to shift the emotional equilibrium of mankind.
Henry David Thoreau once said that “most men live lives of quiet desperation.” For many people, it is this quiet desperation which mutes the appreciation of life and of their fellow beings with inadequacies which lead to hatred. As humans, we have hated for so long that we have forgotten how to love.
The sheer uncertainty of life dictates that there is absolutely no assurance as to when our life will cease. The concept of love is intrinsic to every religion and is inherent within the human psyche. Every day that we spend on frivolity is another day wasted. The ancient concept of “carpe diem”, or “seize the day”, has all but vanished into oblivion. We must conquer ourselves and our hatred, lest we be conquered by them. This is the true and simple message of Hajj.
To the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and agnostics of this world, I implore all of us to help restore our equilibrium that we have long lost. Regardless of whether we believe in God or not, as members of the human community, we must respect the inherent sanctity of life and nurture it for the future generations of humanity.
As one whose sisters and brothers have embarked on the greatest spiritual odyssey of their lives, I call for the remembrance of life. We must continue to hug our mothers, to protect our waterways, to reconcile centuries of hatred and continue to have beautiful babies. We must live each day as though it were our last. We must succeed in seizing the day, for if we fail, the day will eventually seize us.
Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar is the Midwest Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group. He was raised in Chicago and attends Washington University School of Law in St. Louis