An inspiration of hajj for mainstream America
By Omar Alansari-Kreger
Hajj is recognition of our shared mortality which reminds us of what we cannot refute, our humanity.
How does one establish a sense of meaning in a fast-paced world driven by material results? In America, people seem like they are married to their jobs which makes it difficult to acquire a true sense of life or identity for that matter. It becomes quite difficult to stand out when society demands conformity through standardized assimilation. As America continues to wrestle with its deep polarities, it becomes challenging to explore an escape from the madness. This describes something much greater than a two-week vacation. Unbeknownst to many Americans, the Hajj pilgrimage takes place each year. For all able-bodied and financially capable Muslims, it stands as a mandatory religious obligation beckoning fulfillment. It represents a great coming together of the races each year best described as an epic festival of nations. For Hajj, people arrive by the millions far and wide by air, sea, and land.
Any Non-Muslim cannot help but to wonder: why do people leave their careers, families, and other details of life behind across a two-three week period as an act of high faith?
There are certain things in the world that cannot be rationalized through various sorts of worldly obligations. For Muslims, Hajj is recognition of our shared mortality which reminds us of what we cannot refute, our humanity. Therein rests universal imperfection matched by human limitation. In the West, the concept of faith is typically berated as something suited for the superstitious unfit for the likes of modernity. That preconception could not be further from the truth considering that faith authenticates adherence to a particular belief system. In whatever way, shape, or form, people have faith in the idea of things which carries with it a contested worldview. Faith, in its most generic concept, is an unshakeable staple of humanity which seeks solace in some definition of a higher power which in a material world is acquired through the finite confines of man’s inspiration.
No matter how successful or powerful we become, Hajj breaks a man down to his barest instincts. Each hajji must establish an intention to perform that once in a lifetime pilgrimage before descending on Makkah. It is most appropriately described as a clear state of mind made possible by detaching from each worldly reality every hajji leaves behind. As a display of equality and uniformity, all hajjis wear the ihram which is nothing but two pieces of white cloth. Nothing else is allowed, not even undergarments! It illustrates a rare display of human universality which makes it impossible to distinguish the banker and the butcher from each other. Not even communism managed to establish and implement such a great coming together of diversity annually displayed by the human organism. Although one hajji may only experience the pilgrimage once in a lifetime, the hajj is continued each year which makes it possible to perpetually renew one’s faith.
When all is said and done, what should each individual hajji hope to accomplish out of their pilgrimage? Based on Islamic teachings, the purpose of the pilgrimage is to rejoin the world as a better person in whatever capacity possible. People naturally ascertain different views of the world because no two persons will ever view the world identically. The Hajj experience stands as no exception to that rule. Each person wrestles with their own struggles in the world and Hajj is a universal return to sanity. It is a reminder that no volume or degree of status or possessions will ever elevate man beyond what he is: a mortal human being. Amidst an abundance of health and wealth, we are prone to neglecting the scarcity of both which is a blatant indication of shortsightedness inspired by a world of shallow materialism.
What message does Hajj send to mainstream America? It is one of peace achieved through a personalized regimen of introspection? For Muslims, Hajj offers the chance to evaluate the lot of a human life which gives one the ability to define what kind of life they want to lead. In a reality where material distractions inspire worldly ambition, it becomes difficult to focus on the greater meaning of life which reiterates that no matter who or what we are, our nature is irreversibly mortal prone to the same universal weaknesses shared by all humanity.
Omar Alansari-Kreger, of Minneapolis, is a Muslim-American, a writer, and a social activist.
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