Each and every year, nearly 3 million people from every corner of our planet travel on a two-week pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia where their pilgrimage (known in Arabic as the hajj) will culminate itself at Islam’s holiest site in the epicenter of the Muslim world. For many of the millions of Muslims making the pilgrimage, whose ethnic diversity includes old Pakistani men, Indonesian toddlers, young American women, Syrian newlyweds, Sudanese mothers and Bosnian fathers, the pilgrimage represents the spiritual zenith of their lifetimes. The annual gathering in Mecca also makes it one of the largest regular human congregations anywhere on the face of the earth every year.
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 inherent fallibility. The different rites of hajj exemplify the plights of our beloved prophets over the centuries.
During hajj, every Muslim’s focused aspirations is to re-enact the experiences of the prophet Abraham. It also symbolizes the lessons taught by Abraham’s son Ishmael, whose example of obedience and submission cannot be duplicated by any living being; and Islam’s final prophet, Muhammad, who firmly stood on the plains of Arafat and proclaimed the completion of his mission and the equality of all humanity during the last Friday sermon of his lifetime.
Undoubtedly the simplest, yet most profound message of hajj is the concept of the equality of all mankind. During the hajj, there is no superiority based on race, socioeconomic status or gender. Islam teaches that a person only excels over another in their piety and good deeds. As most Muslims know, there is never more equality within the Muslim world than at the 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 and humbled in the eyes of their Creator.
Since the hajj is a time for reflection and prayer, I hope that the millions of Muslim pilgrims this year will pray for 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who had risen to prominence by passionately defending the right to education for girls and who was recently shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in the Swat valley of Pakistan. She miraculously survived the shooting and was flown to a London hospital where she “has been able to stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing”, the British hospital recently reported only a few days ago.
During this hajj season, I also hope that our Muslim pilgrims will pray for the millions of Syrian people who are being ruled and slaughtered by a ruthless dictator named Bashar al-Assad. Many Middle East observers fear that this civil war in Syria will now spill over into neighboring countries after the assassination of a Lebanese general in neighboring Beirut, Lebanon recently. Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, 47, was killed by a powerful car bomb in Beirut’s Ashrafiyeh district last week because he had helped uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Damascus former Lebanese minister. He also led an investigation that implicated Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005. Lebanese politicians have accused Syria’s leadership of having a role in Hassan’s killing, which has now deepened fears that the civil war there is spilling across Syrian borders.
At a time where many Americans only get glimpses of vocal Muslim protests against some idiotic anti-Islam video on YouTube (which prompted the ridiculous ‘Muslim Rage’ cover for Newsweek magazine which was mocked everywhere) within our Western media, it is also important for Americans to understand that millions of Muslims are also trying to better their communities by holding prayer vigils for a brave young schoolgirl from Pakistan or mobilizing to end the carnage of a Syrian dictator slaughtering his own people.
When Malcolm X went on his first hajj to Mecca, he famously wrote back to his followers in Harlem that there were “tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world...They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans...But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white...I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”
So as over 1.57 billion Muslims around the world celebrate the completion of the 2012 pilgrimage in Mecca, let us take a minute to remember those who are less fortunate than us; including an injured Pakistani schoolgirl and millions of innocent civilians in Syria who are dying needlessly around the world.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.”