Everyone defines the word “sacrifice” differently, yet it is a universal action that manifests itself in our daily lives. Students sacrifice their time for education, parents sacrifice their efforts to support their families and people continuously sacrifice to help and support friends and loved ones. The act of sacrificing embodies so many different actions, but overall it represents the same principle: to give up something precious in exchange for something more meaningful, more lasting.
Every year, over two million Muslims sacrifice their time, money and resources for one journey, a pilgrimage called Hajj. But why? For many Muslims, performing Hajj is a life-changing experience, both spiritually and mentally.
Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, observed at least once in a lifetime by Muslims, when financially and physically possible. It is one of the five pillars of Islam that celebrates unity and purification of the soul, and commemorates the sacrifices of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Hajj has been practiced for thousands of years and embodies the spirit of unity, which is a core aspect of Islam. During this time, men are to wear two seamless white sheets, and women are to wear simple white dresses and scarves. In doing so, people are meant to forget about their statuses and backgrounds to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one clear purpose and goal: to worship one God. In this divine system, we put all else aside – race, social status, wealth – and learn to surmount our superficial differences and realize just how similar we all are.
During the turmoil and uncertainty of the 1960s, Malcolm X, a leader of human rights activism, made a pilgrimage to Mecca. In times of discrimination, Malcolm X desperately searched for peace, which seemed impossible. Eventually, he found the peace he was looking for while at Hajj. Malcolm X described the experience by saying, “During the past 11 days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass and slept in the same bed – while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the ‘white’ Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana. We are truly all the same – brothers [and sisters].”
In a time of constant chaos and confusion, opportunities like Hajj give a glimmer of hope as to the potential of our collective efforts, which can make a world of difference. From his experiences in Hajj, Malcolm X was able to perceive the white race differently than what he experienced during the Civil Rights Movement, and realized the similarities that bind us all together as human beings.
Additionally, people have witnessed this unity among the pilgrims throughout the decades. According to a Harvard study done in 2008, researchers found that Hajj “increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects … Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions. The evidence suggests that these changes are more a result of exposure to, and interaction with, Hajjis from around the world, rather than religious instruction or a changed social role of pilgrims upon return.”
This Harvard study emphasizes that Hajj has a positive effect on Muslims. The unity that is witnessed within Hajj is also extended out to their world after their pilgrimage.
Moreover, the Hajj is a symbol of God’s mercy and also serves as an opportunity for Muslims to purify and find themselves.
The importance of Hajj is amplified with the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. Muslims around the world celebrate with the people who performed Hajj, despite whether or not they performed Hajj themselves. This holiday is meant to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice, which is famous in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
On the day of Eid, Muslims around the world pay tribute to Abraham’s commitment to God by sacrificing a goat, lamb or cow in His name, and give one-third of the meat to the poor, one-third for their neighbors and keep one-third for themselves. Also, this holiday allows Muslims to come together as a community and celebrate by giving gifts, having family gatherings and participating in festivities.
The meaning behind Hajj is a constant reminder that although we are consumed by our mundane duties throughout the year, we can always step back and reclaim our lives and goals. Hajj is a way for us to find common ground with strangers and become unified; it is a journey that allows us to break free from the chaos around us and find our place in the world.