By Sabria S. Jawhar
If there is any doubt that miracles happen during Haj, one can look no further than the little dramas played out on the sidelines.We understand the rituals of Haj because it’s imprinted in our DNA. The trip to Mina. The climbing of Mt. Arafat. Stoning the devil at Jamarat Al-Aqba. Circumambulating the Kaaba seven times. Being tested by 45-degree heat.
We also take for granted that nearly 2 million people perform these tasks in close quarters. It’s easy to look Haj pilgrims not as individuals but as a great sea of humanity flowing in and out of Makkah to complete their once in a lifetime duty.
But each person, each man, woman and child, has a story to tell that gives us a window into the hearts and souls of individuals. These stories, these life experiences, allow us to strip away our habit of viewing pilgrims as the masses descending on a tiny spot in the desert from all corners of the earth and see personal revelations that make Muslims unique.
Take, for instance, the elderly Indian man who got separated from his wife on the first day of Haj, leading the woman to believe her husband had died. He showed up days later in a Makkah hospital a little worse for wear, but alive and kicking. The woman thought she was a widow, and now she finds her marriage has a second life.
Consider the two Indonesian sisters estranged for decades over a financial squabble to find themselves reunited amid tears on the third day of Haj. Or the 80-year-old Algerian woman who zealously guarded her dowry for more than 50 years so she could finance her Haj trip this year. How about the 6-year-old boy who stoned the devil for the first time, but didn’t think there was much to be frightened about? The devil was no match for him.
And think about the nearly two dozen open heart surgeries for men and women in Makkah that resulted in saved lives, the quiet anonymous deaths of pilgrims due to the infirmities of old age, and the dozen or so births so far.
These events are an affirmation of the circle of life. And what better venue to serve as a testament to that circle than in Makkah and Mina during Haj.
After decades of steady growth in the number of pilgrims performing Haj — a number that reached an unbelievable 3 million in recent years — we are now witnessing a scaled down version that has brought some criticism from Haj companies and individuals in the business community.
Revenue is down with 1 million fewer pilgrims arriving. According to the business community, the reduced number of pilgrims caused a ripple effect in the services industry that considers Haj as the biggest single revenue-generating event of the year.
But the Ministry of Haj, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health played it smart this year. For one, the Grand Mosque expansion projects required a reduction in pilgrims on the grounds of safety. We know that once the expansion is completed in a couple of years, not only will those 3 million pilgrims return, but also the numbers can conceivably increase.
The drop in the number of pilgrims also proved fortuitous since Saudi Arabia remains under the threat of the deadly coronavirus. So far, there have been no reports of outbreaks.
The pilgrims owe a debt of gratitude to King Abdullah and the ministries involved in organizing a trouble-free Haj. At the same time, we should be thinking less of revenue-generating schemes and more of the personal lives of the people who experienced miracles and salvation at the holy sites. – Eurasia Review
By Sabria S. Jawhar