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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

The end of Hajj symbolises new beginnings

For the returning pilgrims, another spiritual journey is just starting

Muslim pilgrims gather for prayers at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on Wednesday, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP
Muslim pilgrims gather for prayers at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on Wednesday, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP

When Hajj draws to a close on Friday, the two million Muslims who have made the pilgrimage will return to their communities with a renewed sense of their faith. The five days of collective devotion are an opportunity for individuals to seek forgiveness for their sins, dedicate themselves to God and to refocus their spirituality – to be “born anew”, as one hadith observes. But performance of the Hajj is much more than simply an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. It is also an opportunity to readjust one's moral compass.

Along with the prayer rugs, bottles of Zamzam holy water and other mementos of a life-changing experience, the pilgrims who return from Makkah will carry with them a regenerated spiritual purpose, a sharpened sense of morality and a renewed determination to do right by others and to treat them with kindness and compassion. As the Quran says, acts of kindness can be great or small. Thanks to social media, the world witnessed just such a moment this week when a Saudi police officer gave his shoes to ease the suffering of a barefooted elderly pilgrim, who was strapping cardboard to her feet after losing her sandals.

Meanwhile, thoughts inevitably turn to the plight of those who are marking Eid Al Adha in dire circumstances. In Bangladesh, more than 700,000 displaced Rohingya Muslims long to return home and are threatened by monsoon floods and deadly landslides. In Kerala, hundreds have died in flooding and one million are suffering in makeshift relief camps. The sense of responsibility for others instilled in every Muslim manifests itself in the holy festival that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage and recalls the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. Today, the meat from sacrificial animals is symbolically shared with the needy. After five days of sublime religious contemplation, pilgrims returning from Makkah are thrust back into the temporal world, where they will be surrounded by earthly temptations and preoccupations. The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But it is only when pilgrims return, in the test of everyday life that stretches out ahead of them, that their true spiritual journey begins.