Mohammed Nazzali spent months getting ready for his first hajj pilgrimage, but nothing could have prepared him for the rare spiritual experience he shared with hundreds of thousands of other Muslims.
“It’s something that you can’t describe,” the Windsor resident said of his recent trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. “You have to be there.”
Mr. Nazzali estimated that about 60 local Muslims attended the hajj, the fifth pillar of Islamic faith, which began Dec. 18. He travelled to Mecca with a Windsor Mosque group of more than 20 people, led by Abdelkader Tayebi and Fowzi Chams. Another group from Windsor attended as well, while other local Muslims travelled with groups from Toronto and elsewhere.
Between two and three million Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca for the hajj every year.
All able-bodied Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime if they can afford to.
The hajj involves a series of rituals, including walking counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, a large cube-shaped structure in Mecca toward which Muslims pray. Pilgrims also drink from the holy Zam Zam well and perform a symbolic stoning of the devil.
“It’s a beautiful experience that brings you a feeling of belonging to the human kind,” said Mr. Tayebi, a Windsor Muslim community leader. “And that is manifested in the most awesome way.”
During the hajj, men are required to wear the ihram, two white unstitched sheets that symbolize equality.
“You couldn’t tell who was rich and who was poor,” Mr. Nazzali said. “We were all the same.
“There were Muslims from all over — Australia, U.S., Canada, China…”
Despite language barriers, the Windsorites managed to communicate with fellow pilgrims and carry out the rituals together.
They made connections with strangers but also encountered familiar faces in the sea of worshippers.
Mr. Tayebi said he and other members of the Windsor Mosque group were commonly asked about the Muslim experience in Canada. But most conversations didn’t focus on the difficulties Muslims face in the post 9-11 Western world, said Mr. Nazzali.
“Because you’re happy, excited … in a comfortable zone and you want to focus on that,” he said. “(The hajj) softens you.”
The four-week trip was the eighth pilgrimage in a row for Chams.
“This year was the best,” he said. “Saudi Arabia did a really good job of organizing everything.”
Crowd control is a main concern during the hajj because hundreds of people get trampled and hurt, sometimes fatally, every year. Mr. Nazzali said his group did not witness any serious incidents, but admitted the trip was physically demanding, especially on older people.
Mr. Tayebi said he was pleased to see a large number of young Muslims during the hajj.
“It was extremely rewarding and encouraging,” he said, adding that more and more local youth are expressing a desire to go to Mecca.
“Another important thing is that we came back with a stronger group bond. And we prayed for Windsor. We prayed for everybody here.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a January 6, 2008 article by Sonja Puzic in The Windsor Star