Haj, a trip of a lifetime

It is indeed fascinating to see how millions of people, who by nature favour stability, travel to carry out religious ritual in same place and time as each other.

A 2015 file picture shows Muslim pilgrims praying around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual haj in Mecca.


2016/09/04 Issue: 71 Page: 12


The Arab Weekly
Amine Ben Messaoud



You see a lot of pilgrims wearing white in Tunis- Carthage Interna­tional Airport preparing to travel to Mecca to perform haj.

You see pilgrims smiling as they say their goodbyes as their loved ones shed tears to see them leave. The goodbyes are often long as those travelling and those bidding them farewell usually arrive at the airport well ahead of flight depar­ture time.

The haj is a religious obligation for every Muslim who is able — physically and financially — to make the journey.

“Fortune comes to those who wait” is probably muttered by a lot of the pilgrims, many of whom had to wait decades to make the trip. Some had spent many years saving money for the trip, which this year costs about $4,500.

The majority of the pilgrims patiently waited in line under the seniority system, with their hearts yearning to follow in the footsteps of Abraham. They have longed to breathe the air of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

It is indeed fascinating to see how millions of people, who by nature favour stability, travel to carry out a religious ritual in the same place and time as each other.

What is more fascinating is that many of those people, once they return home, feel a strong urge to visit the holy land again.

It is maybe because everything in Mecca — from trees to stones — and everything in the surrounding holy areas of Mina valley, Arafa and Muzdalifa evokes the early story of Islam. From Abraham to the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon them, the intended message of Islam is knowing and loving the other as well as forgiveness.

The pilgrims, who are different in colour, heritage, traditions and languages, are all unified in the white garments that they wear. Their presence in one place is a symbol of accepting one another, a cohesion between civilisations.

The world’s largest annual gathering does not push individu­als to form a consensus but rather stresses the right to be different — sociologically, historically and culturally.

The haj seeks to unify the Mus­lim nation by accepting individu­als and not having a single view of what is Islamically correct.

The journey evokes the story of that patient woman, Hager, wife of Abraham. Millions of pilgrims — men and women — have to follow her footsteps between Safa and Marwa as part of their religious rituals. This alone is a testimony that the understanding of the Islamic faith should not be based on patriarchal biases.

Her original footsteps were in search of water to provide for the livelihood of her son Ismail — and this, too, has a lesson for us today.

Other rituals have their own symbolic messages. The circling of the Kaaba or the kissing of its black stone or the symbolic ston­ing of the devil — all indicate that what truly matters is not in the physical buildings but what they signify.

Those with Islamic State (ISIS) mentalities fail to see the symbol­ism beyond the stones. As they condemn the visiting of revered tombs, they forget that the signifi­cance is in the meaning and not the structure of the site.

Those who fight mere stones are themselves made of stone, while those who seek to preserve ar­chaeological sites are made of the stuff that heritage is made from.

The haj journey is not just a physical experience but also a spiritual and an intellectual one. It is also one where people connect with their inner selves as well as with others. It is a true experience of rebirth.


Amine Ben Messaoud is a Tunisian writer.


As Printed
MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

Designers

Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved