Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God, The Eternally and Extremely Loving and Caring.

“Really???!! That’s awesome!!! It’s going to be amazing!!!”

That is, universally, my reaction when someone – himself giddy with excitement – tells me that he is going on the Hajj. As you may remember, the Hajj is the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must do if she is physically and financially able to do so. It is a series of rituals that re-enact the ancient story of Abraham, Ishmael, and Hagar.

My wife and I had the honor of performing the pilgrimage more than 14 years ago, and the memories are still fresh in our minds. It was the most powerful spiritual experience I have ever had, and its lessons have had a profound effect on me ever since.

As I write this, millions upon millions of pilgrims from all over the world are descending upon the holy precincts of Mecca, looking forward to having their own profound spiritual experiences. Many tears are being shed, and so many are exclaiming – at the top of their lungs – “Here I am, O Lord!”

The Hajj is the culmination of what can be described as the Muslim “high holy days.” They are the first 10 days of the last month in the Islamic calendar. It is a time of tremendous blessing, and Muslims are encouraged to increase their spiritual activity and connection with God. In fact, it is recommended that Muslims fast these 10 days.

At the very least, Muslims are encouraged to fast the ninth day of this month (which is Thursday August 31), corresponding to the highlight of the Hajj itself: standing on the plain of Arafat. Here, pilgrims stand alone before their Lord, beseeching His grace and His mercy. They lay bare all that they have done, and they come to His door looking for atonement. And, when the sun sets, every pilgrim is forgiven: all of their sins are erased, and they are born anew.

For me, it was the most powerful and the most beautiful part of the entire pilgrimage experience. I came away with a brand new friendship with God that I never had before. And I have leaned on that friendship so many times since. I would not have survived without it.

For those not on the pilgrimage, the tenth day of this month is a festival, called Eid-al-Adha, or “Festival of the Sacrifice.” This will occur on Friday September 1. During this Festival, the second major Muslim holiday, families get together and celebrate by performing special prayers in the morning and then a variety of fun activities afterward. Muslims are also encouraged to sacrifice an animal and distribute its meat to the poor. Here in America, most people (including me) pay a charity to do so on their behalf.

This whole beautiful time is why I am so excited for anyone who goes on the Hajj. I remember how wonderful the experience was, and I’m so happy that they are going to experience the very same thing. These Muslim “high holy days” are some of the best of the entire year, and everyone – whether they are there in Mecca or not – can bask in the warmth of their blessings.

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