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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Spiritual spectacle as millions embark on Hajj

The annual pilgrimage is a powerful reminder of commitment to a higher ideal

This is the most technologically friendly pilgrimage, with apps and sleep pods part of a bid to modernise the centuries-old practice of Hajj. Ahmad Al Rubaye / AFP
This is the most technologically friendly pilgrimage, with apps and sleep pods part of a bid to modernise the centuries-old practice of Hajj. Ahmad Al Rubaye / AFP

This week two million pilgrims from all over the world will be embarking on the once-in-a-lifetime rite of passage that is the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam that define the spiritual existence of Muslims everywhere.

For those now fulfilling their obligation, ahead lie five days of spiritual contemplation and renewal steeped in historic ritual. The Hajj retraces the steps of the Prophet Mohammed, who performed his first and only pilgrimage in 632AD, leading a group of followers, who have been performing the same steps ever since.

For most taking part in this year’s Hajj, this will be the first time they have set eyes on the Kaaba or seen Makkah, towards which they have directed their daily prayers.

They will join Muslims from every corner of the world, representing every nation and culture, as they circumnambulate the Kaaba.

When they walk between the hills of Safa and Marwah, the pilgrims remember the search for water by the prophet Ibrahim’s wife Hagar. And when they spend the night in quiet contemplation in Mina, hurl pebbles, symbolically pelting the devil, and gather on Mount Arafat to pray, they do so much as pilgrims did nearly 1,400 years ago.

While the Hajj is as physically and emotionally strenuous as it was then, this year will be the most technologically friendly pilgrimage, with numerous tools on hand to smooth the process, from phone apps guiding pilgrims through every step of the way to 4G antennas offering widespread phone connection and wi-fi coverage throughout Makkah.

The rituals, however, remain unchanged and through them, Muslims will reconnect with their spirituality. But in addition to its personal meaning, Hajj also has great universal significance.

The sheer spectacle of such a mass of humanity, from all walks of life, in the same simple attire representing the equality of all believers before God, is a powerful reminder that through commitment to a higher ideal, they might transcend earthly preoccupations and overcome seemingly intractable differences.

This is also a time of compassion for those less fortunate, embodied in the festival of Eid Al Adha which follows, during which an animal is sacrificed and shared with those in need.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, reminded his Twitter followers of this obligation yesterday, urging them “to extend a helping hand to our brothers in India”, where hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced by the flooding in Kerala.

For the pilgrims following in the historic footsteps of their forebears today, Hajj is an opportunity to reconnect with their inner spirituality in the company of legions of fellow believers, past and present, from all backgrounds and nations.

As such, it is an occasion unique in human experience and an exercise in faith, hope and compassion that serves as an example to the world.

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