Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Hajj: Eat, Pray But Love Not?

Is it sacriligious that I had a run-in with our group scholar, and that too in Mina, the Valley of Love?

Our stay in Mina punctuated the end of a two-week pilgrimage trip that allowed us to bathe in God's Majestic Power and Glory in the sacred lands while bonding with fellow Muslims (3,000,000!) from around the world through worshipping together, weeping together and just being together, all while imploring God's forgiveness, guidance and ultimate pleasure.

"And proclaim among men the pilgrimage: they will come to you on foot and every lean animal, coming from every remote path." (Quran 22:27)

Forced literally "shoulder-to-shoulder" throughout, the need for "personal space" was slowly replaced with feelings of love, compassion and sympathy for others--regardless of ethnicity, language and social class--accompanying us on this journey called life.

For me, our equality before God was most pronounced during the sai or to-and-fro between the two mountains of Safa and Marwa. I got choked up every time the green light approached and all the male hajjis (no matter how rich, important or powerful back home), donned in two simple cloths, picked up their trot in emulation of Hagar, the wife of Prophet Abraham and great grandmother of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times). Hagar had done the same in search of water for her dying baby thousands of years ago.

This hustle was in obedience to the Almighty who continually reminds His guests of the elevated status of a black, African, slave woman for acquiring what truly counts: piety, God-consciousness and absolute trust in her Lord. Follow her footsteps! God commands.

It was with such thoughts and feelings that hajjis land in the Valley of Mina, where they're required to encamp for the last two to three days of their pilgrimage.

"Now at the termination of hajj do not disperse, do not return to your home country," says Ali Shariati in his book Hajj: Reflections on Its Rituals. "We should sit and discuss our pains, needs, difficulties and ideals with our fellow-sympathizers...who have gathered from all parts of the world with the warmth of the same love, having been illuminated with the same faith."

Imam Khamanei, the Supreme Leader in Iran, echoed this sentiment in his annual message to hajj pilgrims earlier this month:

"It will be worthy of the hajj pilgrims at this great assembly of the Islamic Ummah to address the most important issues of the Islamic world. The uprisings and revolutions in some important Islamic countries are at the head of these issues. The events that have taken place in the Islamic world in the interval between the previous and present hajj pilgrimages can change the destiny of the Islamic Ummah, and they forbode a bright future accompanied with dignity and progress, material and spiritual."

But the scholars accompanying our group had other things in mind. Eat, pray and relax, they exhorted anticlimactically. I gleaned little that was coherent, inspiring or moving from their post-congregational prayer speeches. Needless to say, there was absolutely no mention of standing up for the oppressed or fighting injustice.

"The way the rulers of Arabia run Mecca and Medina and the network of masjids (mosques) they have all around the world, they want you--when you go to Mecca or to a masjid--to leave your mind outside," says scholar Muhammad al-Asi, author of The Ascendant Quran.

At the end of one sermon too many, I went up to the speaker and asked him to shed light on what we American-Muslims can do to participate in the movement for justice and equality upon returning home. "I am not American," was his reply. Then tell us about Tahrir Square (He was Egyptian.), I pleaded.

Red-faced and walking away, he pointed to the mic and told me to go tell people to protest if that is what I was after.

Little did he know that I had a mic of my own in my backpack: a pen. Returning to my room, I found a piece of paper (my four-year old's drawing of what she wanted me to pray for: a new swing set), turned it over and scribbled in black ink:

Peace and Justice

and pinned it to the back of my abaya (overcoat).

The note provoked vibrant conversations but I was humbled to find it was too little, too late for my esteemed Canadian sisters who were already standing up for justice right then and there. When they found  the camp's Indonesian sisters sleeping on the bathroom floor one morning, they protested to the organizers and raised $1,100 Saudi Riyals to distribute to these workers.

They knew what Shariati meant when he said: "This is not the end of the work. It is the beginning."


Anonymous said...

What an extraordinary Journey you had, dear friend! I find your experience with the Muslim "establishment" to be too similar to mine with the Christian. Tradition and comfort seem to breed complacency. I still hold to my thought that changing my own consciousness has as much power to promote change as rallies and demonstrations. May we all find a path that counters oppression! PC

Salina Khan said...

Thanks, PC! We'll have to agree to disagree on that one :)
Keep up all the excellent work you are doing for peace and justice on earth.

Anonymous said...

This was a very touching and much needed post. It brought tears to my eyes, both to see that the scholars that we look up to are representing the wrong Islam and also to realize that ordinary people can make a difference. Alhamdulillah there are people like you in this world sister. You are a true inspiration.

Salina Khan said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I wish I was deserving of your praise...hajj makes one realize how much there is to work on within one's self.

Anonymous said...

I'm speechless! What an experience, mA! A pen can do wonders;) Hope to follow in your footsteps, soon, iA!
Lots of love, Mehreen

Salina Khan said...

Thanks, Mehreen! Insha Allah, I hope you can go next year...start preparing mentally and spiritually for it now to get the most of out it, iA, though I seemed to forget everything I read once I was there and in the thick of it all!