Sunday, January 15, 2006

Haj: Some Lessons for the World

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,
Haj was an educating and ennobling experience. Like my last three holy journeys, I learned a lot about myself, ourselves and the world we live in. Here are some of the lessons.
Haj is an occasion where people of all colors, races and backgrounds live together, move as one, and do the same thing, the same way, at the same time. You can’t feel superior to others if you have to be an integral part of their thoughts, feelings and actions. It doesn’t matter here if you are from a better economic or social class, or have higher position or education. It doesn’t make a difference if you are culturally more sophisticated, elegant or better looking. Under the sunny sky of Makkah, in the squeezed crowd of millions, in the simple two-piece white dress everyone looks the same.
In the holy places you forget who you are and where you came from, at least in your relations with the others.
I saw men and women perform the same rituals at the same space and time. Women did not have to cover their faces. In fact, they were required not to.
No religious police, rules or regulations prevent them from doing what they had to do in the same place as men and with men. No one tells them to stay behind to take care of home and children. No one dares say they are lesser creatures than men, and should not be part of men’s tougher and superior world. In Haj, men and women are as equal as children of Allah can be.
If we could go back to our lives with such sense! If we were to give our women what Islam gave them! If we decided to stop mixing our Dark Age tribal traditions with the pure Islam of Khadeeja, Aisha and the great women at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his caliphs!
There was no political or social enmity during the Haj. I saw Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris share the same tents and mosques. They helped each other and cared for one another. Iraqis and Kuwaitis, Sudanese of all tribes and races, Syrians and Lebanese, Moroccans and Algerians and many others who came from warring places were united under the blessings of one merciful God. If only the leaders of these nations would learn a lesson from this! If they could unite their peoples as they were united in Makkah under the banner of peaceful, encompassing and tolerating Islam!
Religious rivalry was absent, too. Muslims of all sects were praying to the same God, toward the same direction, behind the same imam. They were identical in their appearance, performance and feelings. Sunnis and Shiites, Salafis and Sufis, conservatives and liberals ate together, walked together, and prayed together. They didn’t ask, they didn’t tell, and they didn’t argue about the history of differences that occurred some thousand and four hundred years ago. If we could take that home with us, stop digging the past, and start planning for the future!
And there was no politics. We all prayed for a united and liberated Muslim nation. We prayed for the freedom of occupied Palestinians, Iraqis, Chechens, Kashmiris and Afghanis. But there was no hatred of the non-Muslims. There were no calls for jihad against the peaceful nations and peoples of the non-Muslim world. For almost a week, we were busy praying for the betterment of our families and societies, and cared less for the confusing and dividing politics of governments and leaders. If we could continue to do so after Haj! If we could focus more on the improvement of ourselves rather than on the destruction of our perceived enemies and rivals!
In Makkah we all learned that the world is so small, life is so short, and death can be so close. I faced death with many others more than once. Most of us survived. If we could appreciate that and always remember that only love can make our lives worth living!
In the holy sites, we learned to resolve our differences peacefully. We had to share tight spaces, meager resources, and tough environment. Many pushed their way through tight crowds; others lost their temper standing in long lines for food or water. But every time we reminded ourselves that Allah won’t accept our Haj if we don’t make peace with each other.
Problems were quickly solved and compromises made with apologetic, friendly smiles. If we could always remember that most things are not worth fighting for! And that with more humility, less intransigence, and some compromises we could all live a better, happier and peaceful life!
If we all, Muslims and non-Muslims, could learn what we, the pilgrims did, our world will definitely be a much better and happier place!

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