Religion

In Mecca on Eid al Adha, carrying the burden of those lost in Gaza

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MECCA (RNS) — This year, as millions of Muslims flock to the land where Abraham once offered his greatest sacrifice in the ritual pilgrimage known as Hajj, they carry in their hearts a burden far heavier than their own sins and supplications. Whether a pilgrim has come from Nigeria or Daghestan, Taiwan or Tajikstan, Senegal of Syria, the prevailing sentiment here in the holy land is one of sadness over the painful losses in Gaza.

It’s not those from afar who feel it most deeply, but the thousands of Palestinian pilgrims present this year who have lost their own relatives. It is permitted for Hajj to be performed on behalf of another person once you have performed your own, and many of the pilgrims are here bearing the names of Gaza’s nameless casualties. Their Lord knows, and they know that He knows. 

When Abraham was commanded to leave his son Ishmael and the boy’s mother Hagar (Peace Be Upon Them All) in this barren desert, he wondered what would become of them. Yet in his perfect submission to God, he did as he was told, fully trusting in God’s perfect plan. As Hagar called out to him in the desert asking if God commanded him to walk away, she affirmed that if it is so then “God does not lose His people.”

While we count our losses in Gaza, we know that God has not lost them. We believe that our dead have transitioned into his loving care, while we still seek to get a world to care more about the living relatives still living in pain and fear.

As I walked around Medina and Mecca in my recognizable Palestinian keffiyeh, random worshippers from all over the world and even my taxi drivers offered prayers, sometimes with tears in their eyes, for the Palestinian people. I was struck with the beautiful sense of solidarity, which equalizes us all in our humanity. In recent months we have complained of the inhumanity of the continued starvation and bombing of Gaza, noting that it can only happen because of the dehumanization of Palestinians that has come before. Here, where we are all so equally human in front of the creator of all, we find comfort in beautiful human expressions of empathy. Many of our fellow worshippers do not even speak our language, yet can still see us as siblings in faith and humanity.

When I performed Hajj five years ago, it was in the wake of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, of 50 Muslims who committed no crime except being Muslim. I had been blessed to be with them in New Zealand as the families washed their dead and prayed their funeral prayers, and I was blessed to be with them in Hajj a few months later. Like the families of the martyred Gazans here today, they too were carrying the names of their lost relatives. We prayed together in a place that seems to heal all wounds, before returning to a cruel reality that continues to relegate us to less than human.

But here one finds the spiritual lifeline to persist. It’s an inexplicable feeling of emotion that turns our deepest vulnerabilities into devotions of strength. We submit to the Lord as did Abraham,  Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac. We submit like the prophets of old, and the oppressed of new. We submit to God’s perfect plan, while complaining of our own imperfections. We seek aid when the world seems so turbulent, and our efforts seem so inconsequential. We seek guidance to be more sincere, more effective, more empathetic, and on the side of righteousness and truth no matter what remains ahead of us.

The repeated prayer for Hajj is “Here we are O Our Lord, Here we are.” But our broken hearts are truly also in Gaza while seeking to be mended in Mecca.



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