On the 14th of October 2013, Muslims celebrated the second most important holiday in their religious calendar, the Eid ul Adha (or the festival of the Hajj) which is the culmination of the annual pilgrimage of the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. The global Muslim community joined in solidarity with the select few who have had the privilege of actually performing the Hajj, the most spiritual of journeys, answering the invitation not only from God to visit His sacred house, but also in response to the prayers of Prophet Abraham and his son Prophet Ishmael (Peace Be Upon them Both), who built the Ka’abah (the House of God) and subsequently prayed to Him that His most beloved of followers (and believers) would come. In the Qur’an, God orders Abraham (Peace Be Upon Him – PBUH) “…proclaim the pilgrimage to humankind, they will respond, coming to the sacred house on foot, riding every possible conveyance coming from every distant path.” (22:27). Those who come for the pilgrimage proclaim ‘Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik – here I am at your service O Lord, here I am’.
In an age of commercialism, often the lessons of the Hajj are lost amongst Muslims who settle more for the rituals and practices. During the festival more attention is paid to a recommended practice of animal slaughter instead of understanding why the slaughter is being done. What is worse is that violence in the name of Islam is now also carried out and condoned by some quarters despite the fact that this not only goes against the teachings of Islam but the life and example set by the Prophet Muhamed (PBUH).
The Hajj is supposed to be a humbling spiritual experience that takes one back to the essence of what life is about. It is about understanding what the purpose of life's journey is that all of us are embarking on.
The ultimate and most difficult lesson to learn on this journey is to understand our destination. For those of you who have read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the understanding of this destination is very simple: ‘Go; travel the world, look for the truth and the secret of life – every road will lead you to this sense of initiation: the secret is hidden in the place from which you set out’.
This is the apparent paradox of spiritual experience whereby the constant effort that we make to purify, to control and liberate our hearts is in the end, reconciliation with the deepest level of our being and the spark that the Creator breathed into our heart which is the spark (the fitra) of humility, the awareness of fragility, the consciousness of limitation, the shoulder of responsibility.
Yet the Hajj, which is supposed to be the ultimate show of unity in diversity as follows the call by God, somehow doesn’t seem to manifest itself in the world today.
The violence in many parts of the Muslim world, especially against Christians over the last few weeks, is testimony to the ignorance of many Muslims to one of the basic lessons of the Hajj which is about knowing, understanding and accepting the ‘other’.
The Hajj is also the ultimate lesson for finding common ground for interfaith dialogue. The catalyst for this pilgrimage is Prophet Abraham (PBUH) who as the main inspiration and father of the lines of Prophets that brought the three monotheist religions, means that the Eid ul Adha is not only significant for Muslims but should be symbolic for Christians and Jews as well. The Hajj should be a common talking point not only for interfaith dialogue but more importantly for multi-faith action as the Qur’an says “Who could be of better faith than the one who surrenders utterly to God and is a doer of good and follows that faith of Abraham, the upright one?...” (4:125)
The hajj, and the symbolic teachings of the life of Abraham (PBUH), should help us to identify with others in different ways which is crucial to living in a multicultural society. It should help us remember that we are much more than a label, that our plurality and diversity are not divisive elements but are a cause for celebration, that within the celebration is an understanding of common humanity and universal principles.
Eid ul Adha's blessed feast should be one not only of food but one of faith. It should become a rallying point as we follow in the footsteps of Abraham (PBUH), bringing all members of his progeny together. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the concept of a fraternal atmosphere has been denigrated to a single notion within the mindset of the Muslim community, who have gradually entrenched themselves into an ideological box. This ideological comfort zone leads to an isolationist mentality and cultural ghetto, which Muslims the world over place themselves in. This isolationist mentality imbibes an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ attitude and has meant that the Muslim community has always been worried about ‘us’ rather than taking an all encompassing look at ‘we’. This assumption of singularity is the weapon of sectarian activists who want people to ignore all affiliation and loyalties in support of one specific identity. This is deeply divisive and leads to social tension and violence, for there is a sense of injustice and intolerance that is created from potential misunderstandings and misconceptions.
Through Abraham’s progeny we are united by familial ties and the deep connection of our religious kinship. This shared human experience gives us the opportunity to remember our original spiritual substance and to realign our moral compass. We can either fight about our differences or remember that we are united in the singular conviction that Abraham (PBUH) held.
This is the shared message we share with our brothers and sisters of Abraham’s progeny: the leading of an upright life fighting those elements which sought to destroy his society. In a time when our societies are facing a moral and financial crisis and fundamental values are being threatened, people of faith need to rally together to fight those elements. At the heart of our consumer society, where materialism and individualism drive our daily lives, we have a fight against consumerism and narcissism that do not take into account the beauty of human nature or the crushing debt and poverty faced by millions around the world.
To truly bask in the legacy of Abraham (PBUH), it is imperative not to lose our way by being driven blindly by traditional practices or by commercialization, and to come back to the very essence of the message of the respective faiths: respect and love of human beings as a manifestation of the love for the Almighty and to remember our responsibilities to humanity.
#Photo of pilgrims circumbulating the Kaabah in Makkah during the Hajj by Mohammed Mobarak; attribution via Flickr Commons.