The last of them left on Christmas Eve. They – my brother and his wife – followed my sister and her husband, who left December 21, for the Sacred Precincts on the once-in-a-lifetime journey. All of them were blessed to be able to undertake the Hajj, which formally begins on December 28.
They left as the majority of the world’s Christians gather to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ (pbuh), an event which, as a Muslim, was a most blessed one for me. As members of one faith community gather to celebrate a birth, more than 2 million members of another faith community also gather on a journey of re-birth.
Almost four years ago, my wife and I were blessed to go on the Hajj. I remember those days as vividly as if they had occurred just yesterday. I left my home and family (2 daughters back then) and traveled thousands of miles to a barren desert where the House of God is found, built by the father of us all, Abraham, and his son Ishmael. The house that Abraham built was to be a place of prayer and worship of the Lord God, the One and Only God, for all time.
I arrived in Mecca and beheld His House for the first time, not being able to hold back my tears. I was immediately humbled by the Awesome Power of God, by His Almighty Majesty. Yet, that Face of God quickly faded away, replaced by the Face of a Loving Friend, my Precious Beloved, Who accompanied and stayed with me for the rest of the trip.
I traveled counterclockwise around the Ka’bah, the central shrine in Mecca, just as Abraham did. I ran between the two hills of Safa and Marwa, just as the wife of Abraham, Hagar, did in a desperate search for nourishment for her crying baby Ishmael. She was in search for food and drink; I was in search for grace and forgiveness.
I stood on the plain of Arafat, where my father and mother – Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) – were first reunited after being expelled from His presence, and begged the Lord to take me back to where I belonged in the first place. Just like my father Adam (pbuh), it was my sin that estranged me from my Lord, and now I came back to where my father once stood and begged my God to forgive my sins. At the end of that day, all my sins were wiped clean, and I was born anew.
Then I stoned the three pillars – representing the Devil, enemy of us all – just like Abraham (pbuh) did, and I spend many days and nights in quiet, contemplative worship. It was the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had, and there is not a day that goes by that Mecca does not call back to me.
And I must never forget the sweetness of meeting my beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his beautiful mosque in his beautiful, blessed city of Yathrib, better known as Medina. As I stood face to face with my Messenger, once again I could not hold back my tears as I told him, “Peace be unto you, Messenger of God. Long have I waited to be here with you.” I will indeed never forget the peace and tranquility I felt knowing that my Prophet (pbuh) was nearby. I will never forget the beauty of his soothing presence all around me in his most magnificent city.
And now fast forward to 2006. It is indeed an amazing year. During this holiday season, all the children of Abraham have had special religious festivals at the same time. Hanukkah has just finished, and as I noted before, had I been alive at that time, I would have been a Jew. Christmas is upon us now, and soon, my fellow Muslims and I will be celebrating Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, commemorating all that Abraham did many, many years ago.
How much in common have we. How much common heritage share we. Yet, still, so many of us fight the other. What a terrible shame, indeed. What a terrible shame.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.