Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) dear readers,
Things are slowly settling in the new place and I am recovering from a few ailments past as well as some new developed during the move. For my Muslim readers, I ask that you please keep me in your du’a (=prayers) for a speedy and lasting recovery ‘hasana’ (=good, beauty, excellence, nobility) in this world and most importantly in the hereafter for me and my family, especially my mother who is fighting a cancer discovered last year. I ask this especially during the ten days that are about to be upon us (God grant we meet them). The first ten days of Dhul Hijja.
Dhul Hijja is the name of the last month of the Muslim year. It is during this month that the annual Hajj pilgrimage is performed. The ‘eid’ (=festival) of Hajj, in this case called ‘eid-ul-adh’ha’ (=festival of sacrifice) is on the 10th of the month and marks the end of the rights of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is an obligation upon a Muslim who has the means (monetary and physical) to make it, and due at least once in a lifetime. It is the fifth of the five pillars of Islam. The others being the testification of faith, the salah (=five times a day ritual worship), the fasting in Ramadan, and the giving of 2.5% of one’s savings to charity called ‘zakat'(=purification) – an annual ‘tax’.
I have been longing to go but visa restrictions still prevent me. My beloved grandmother (and I ask you for your du’a upon her too, is mostly bed-ridden now, yet a smile never leaves her face. Allah bless her abundantly!) performed the pilgrimage when she was 75 by the grace of God. She needed to spend some days in a nursing home to recover when she came back severely dehydrated. She told me to go when I was young, so I would have the strength to fulfill the rights of pilgrimage and spoke highly of the multitudes of young women from Indonesia she saw performing the pilgrimage. In the old days it used to be that a village would gather to bid farewell to a pilgrim, not really expecting to see them return and many are the pilgrims who go in the mental state of not expecting to come back. They prefer death in the blessed land close to where the beloved, the messenger of God, Muhammed (peace be upon him) lived. Though it is not so long ago, I did hear of people who did not come back from the Hajj when I was a child. It was difficult for the families but there was always a sense of peace with this news. Inna lilllaahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon (=from God we come and to Him we return).
Yet, these 10 blessed days are open to all in terms of their merit in drawing near to God and many Muslims engage in extra acts of worship at home. Anse Tamara Grey, a ‘sheikha’ living in the USA organizes the annual ‘pilgrims at home’ event for sisters. Here is a link FYI.
Commemorating the sacrifice our father, the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was so ready to make of his son, the blessed prophet Ismael (peace be upon him), we follow rituals that remind us of this event as well as of the struggles of Hajar, the blessed mother of Ismael. She, when left with her baby (Ismael in infancy) in that barren dessert, ran from hilltop to hilltop looking for help…crying for water. It was then that she discovered the well of water that had sprung up by the feet of her infant son. She was desperate to collect the water and built a ridge of sand around it, crying ‘zam zam’ (=stop, stop)…so the water would not run off. That well to this day has been supplying all the inhabitants of Mecca with water. Pilgrims will often fill what bottles and vessels they can with it and bring it back home, and then distribute it as a precious gift from the hajj. It is a sacred gift, and I have drunk of it. It has a particular taste, attributed to its higher than usual mineral content. Nowadays the water from the well is managed in a modern way and pumps are used to draw it up to supply the pilgrims and others. More information can be found here at the ZamZam studies and research center in Saudi Arabia website. , part of the Saudi Geological Society.
I pray one day I can go, and I pray I can go soon. For the news of the mega-construction projects all around the haram (=sanctuary, another way of terming the ‘ka’aba in Mecca and the prayer enclosure around it) are very depressing to the spirit. I used to love to see photographs of the haram in the past. Now with that gargantuan clock-tower complex towering over it, the sense of aesthetic is severely dampened. It is an eye-sore, I have to be honest. The haram itself is undergoing major renovation I heard, and soon it may not be possible to see the ‘ka’aba (=literally, ‘cube’. Guess where the English word cube came from? :) ) unless close to it. I have read, though I pray it is not true, that the graceful, elegant and aesthetically so pleasing porticos built during the Ottoman time by the great architect Mimar Sinan (I blogged about him here) may be torn down. What a tragedy that would be. Muslim art and architecture has always had a quality of grace, of being able to transport the spirit out of the body. I am not sure the modern day Saudi government appreciates that quality!
I wanted to point you to a very nice article written by a recent hujjaj (=pilgrim) appearing in the New Yorker. It is beautifully written and contains pithy and poignant little pieces of wisdom and insight. My dear non-Muslim readers may find it especially informative and an easy read. It is too long to copy-paste here. Here is the link. Called ‘Modern Mecca; the transformation of a holy city’. My Muslim readers also may find it very informative.
Finally to end I thought to share a documentary link on the hajj. Youtube is filled with them. I recommend one by National Geographic tracing the journey of three different hujjaj from around the world, even a Biology professor from Texas. But I picked this one to share, about 5 hujjaj from China. So as to shed light on the 20 million strong ethnic Chinese Muslim community (below). Watching it I could not but help thinking of the pure hearts of the hujjaj highlighted in it. We believe that it is only God who knows a person’s heart, and indeed that all and any act of worship is only acceptable to God or not, based on the sincerity in that heart. That it is done for the sake of pleasing the Most Beautiful One, only. A glimpse into their simple lives brings serenity to the heart. May God bless their beautiful souls.
We believe that should the hajj be acceptable to God, one returns from it as pure as a new-born babe! May Allah shower His abundant grace upon the hujjaj of this year, and accept their efforts, granting them this high state. And may we one day be among them.
Peace be with you all