Although the Hajj is very physically demanding--there are two million other Muslims doing the exact same thing at the exact same time--it is the trip of a lifetime for every Muslim. It is a "dress rehearsal" for Judgment Day, when we believe all of humanity will be gathered together and judged by God. At the end of the Hajj, the sins of pilgrims are completely wiped clean, and it is as if they have been "born anew."
With each passing day, my excitement grows exponentially. I have seen the city of Mecca and the Ka'bah--the shrine built by Abraham and Ishmael as a House of God--dozens of times on satellite television and in still pictures, but to be there in person will be amazing.
Five times each day, I face Mecca to perform my daily prayers, but to stand before the holy shrine will be a surreal experience. In fact, these words do not do justice to the excitement I feel about performing the Hajj this year.
Yet, one thing causes me disquiet as I pack my bags: the looming prospect of war with Iraq. The rhetoric coming from President Bush and his entourage is becoming more and more belligerent, and it seems that war is a foregone conclusion. The Hajj is set to begin on February 9th this year, and I am nervous that this is around the time when bombs will begin to pound Baghdad.
Will my wife and I be stranded in Saudi Arabia as my President begins his program of regime change? Will a scud missile, on its way to Tel Aviv from Baghdad, fall mistakenly on the holy cities of Mecca or Medina? Will the harmony of the Hajj be disrupted if pilgrims protest the military attack against Iraq? Will our plane be accidentally shot down as it flies home to the United States? These questions plague my mind and cast a shadow on my bright thoughts about the upcoming Hajj experience.
Perhaps the warmongers will take into account that performing the Hajj is every Muslim's dream, and each one of those 2 million Muslims (including my wife and me) have spent a lot of time, effort, and money preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime journey. A war that could either disrupt or (worse) cancel the Hajj would be devastating. Russian military sources, in fact, have reported that a U.S. war against Iraq may start as soon as mid-February. If that war strands two million Muslims in Saudi Arabia, America's image in the Islamic world, already battered, will deteriorate further.
I have a feeling that the Administration will be unconvinced of Iraq's compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441, regardless of the weapons inspectors' findings, and will push for war.
There is a special prayer that a Muslim should utter in case something prevents him or her from completing the Hajj duties: "Lord, if I am prevented from completing the Hajj by any obstacle, my place is wherever I am held up." I hope and pray I will not have to utter that prayer this year.