Friday, November 1, 2013

The Best of Character - A Spiritual Journey

I am sharing a very personal and magnificent journey with all of you. I am writing this column from Makkah or Mecca as I am currently performing the Hajj or Pilgrimage. It is incumbent on a Muslim to perform this trip once in a lifetime if they are able physically and financially.

The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. It's a spiritual journey from within the person. It's essence is sincerity, love and hope. As we perform this act of worship, we ask that this trip is made easy and meaningful for us. This trip is an inspiration to have the best of character.

I am one of two million Muslims, from 70 different countries, that have traveled to Makkah and Medina with the purpose of undertaking the great journey of Hajj.

This is a time of complete selflessness. Think of the idea of serving each other and serving other people . Think about making sacrifices for other people. Imagine the beauty of a community that is truly able to practice selflessness. It takes constancy in work and purpose to do this. This sacred journey will test our patience, steadfastness and faith. It requires much sacrifice. Selflessness is not our natural state of being.

If we think about humanity as one creation, and the blessings we receive when we help others, we behave differently. We are generally concerned with our own needs, it's a huge shift to put others ahead of you. It takes special effort to behave this way. The best of us, make the intention to control our thoughts which controls our behavior.

Every pillar and ritual in Islam has purpose. The Hajj is an event of great spiritual, moral, and worldly significance. It is an opportunity for purification and for strengthening our relationship with our Lord. During this act of formal worship and devotion with prescribed rites to be carried out, we begin the transformation. At the same time, carrying out those rites along with a huge crowd teaches us the virtues of patience, good conduct, and love in how we relate to our fellow pilgrims. We are reminded from the moment we make the intention to perform Hajj, we must practice patience and humility to avoid negating the acceptance of Hajj. And one reminder is never enough.

Watching the pilgrims perform the Hajj, is exemplary of equality and unity. Muslims who belong to different nations, cultures, social and economical status are dressed in simple white garments, all performing the same rites. It's a reminder, there is no difference between rich and poor, as they all stand in front of their Lord in submission and humility.

Hajj is a purification of the soul from sins and a means to gain the Mercy of God. It requires a financial, physical, and emotional commitment. Hajj is not a vacation, or a business trip. Hajj has values, manners, virtues and rewards. It requires a great deal of physical exertion and tolerance. During the pilgrimage we are presenting ourselves to God. This is an opportunity to detach ourselves from our worldly needs, and devote
ourselves completely to God.

This was a two week experience of devotion to prayer, spirituality, and the remembrance of God. Dressed in simple garments, offering the five daily prayers and reciting passages for forgiveness, and blessings in this life, and the hereafter.

The most beautiful moment happens when you make the intention to go to Hajj. The second most beautiful moment happens towards the end of the trip when you begin to see the transformation of sharing, people caring, more smiling, less pushing and more unity.

The women are addressed as "sister" and the men are addressed as "brother". Other special moments include ordinary people that will buy cases of water, juices, tissues, fruits, and pass them out to the pilgrims as they are walking by, for the purpose of doing good and hydration.

Through history we have had many large gatherings for a purpose. Sporting, entertainment, cultural and political events have gathered large crowds, but no gathering has had the same significance for me, as the Hajj. I am grateful to have had this unique spiritual experience. May God accept our Hajj. Our goal in performing the Hajj and Worshiping God, is not to fulfill an obligation but to improve our character and our community.

See you next time at a Moment with Manal.