HAJJ: THE MUSLIM'S PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA
Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, takes place specifically from the 8th to the 12th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. All Muslims, who are physically and financially able to do so, are required to participate in Hajj at least once in their lifetime. During this journey, a million or so Muslims will go to religious sites and perform specific rituals. Rituals they have been performing for hundreds of years since the time of their prophet, Mohammed, which makes the following story even more fascinating.
Men and women, without knowledge of the Gospel or contact among Christians in their cities, have experienced dreams and visions of Jesus Christ while on their Hajj. The reports of these supernatural occurrences often come from “closed countries” where there is no preaching of the Good News and where converting to Christianity would result in the death penalty. But these are more than just isolated incidences and results in the surrender of men and women's lives to Jesus. Many of these testimonies come from those seeking, as best they can, to know and please God.
Omar was an intelligent, hardworking business man who had everything going for him—a well-paying job, a wife whose family adored him, and a small son who looked just like him! However, Omar found himself drinking alcohol to alleviate the increasing stress and pressure of rising expectations of job performance as well as cultural expectations to financially support family members who were less fortunate. Omar’s use of alcohol increased to a daily habit. Once his personality and home life was affected, Omar’s father-in-law suggested he go on his Hajj to get closer to Allah. Omar came from a deeply religious family, and he loyally fulfilled all the Islamic rituals, but had never performed his Hajj.
Growing up, Omar was particularly inquisitive about Allah and the Islamic religion his parents practiced and taught. At a young age, he prided himself at never compromising in his religious practices because he realized the only way to know Allah was to serve him with precise excellence. Since Allah was angry with him because of his alcohol consumption, Omar believed Allah exposed this to his father-in-law, which only added to the guilt and condemnation he was already experiencing. The next day Omar reserved a ticket with a Hajj tour company. However, since he was late in making his arrangements, he would have to travel with men from a nearby city; men he had never met before.
On the first day, Omar arrived into Jeddah and eventually via bus to Mecca, where he completed the required ceremonial body washing and changed his clothes into two pieces of white linen cloth. Being a fairly large man, it seemed his wife did not purchase enough cloth to fully cover him. However, at this point there was nothing he could do but tie the two pieces of cloth together and do his best to cover the parts that needed to be covered! All of this was an embarrassing inconvenience, but Omar decided Allah was again punishing him for drinking alcohol. So he accepted this punishment.
Getting to Mecca and having to immediately begin his Hajj without much preparation was an unwanted distraction, which, as expected, made it difficult for Omar to enter into a state of devotion and purity. The first act of his Hajj was to circle the Ka'aba 7 times counterclockwise. The Ka’aba is the stone shrine said by Islamic scholars to have been built by Abraham and his son, Ishmael. As he entered into the enormous courtyard of the Masjed Al-Haram (Mosque) where the Ka'aba is located, Omar decided he would somehow try to weave through the crowd and touch the shrine for extra good measure of gaining Allah's favor in cleansing him from doing what was forbidden. Omar spent numerous hours—many more than 7 times—walking around the Ka'aba. Eventually, the exhaustion from his flights and required Hajj preparation forced him to give up trying to touch the shrine. Omar felt defeated and even more distant from Allah. He decided he would somehow make it up to Allah on the second or third day by doing something extra or helping some of the elderly men by performing the ritual for them as well.
Collapsing into the tent he was assigned, Omar tried to get some rest before the next day's activities. However, there was so much excitement among the others in his tent—50 in all—that he started wondering if the guilt of consuming alcohol was less of a burden than exercising patience toward these 49 men who were not going to settle down anytime soon. Aside from the typical no smoking, swearing, or shaving, Omar remembered that fighting and arguments were also banned during the Hajj. Therefore, his desire to avoid more guilt was the only thing that prevented him from yelling at the other men.
Later that evening, there was an older esteemed gentleman who began sharing some of his previous Hajj experiences and giving the younger men exhortations of what Allah was looking for from each man through this pilgrimage. Since Omar could not fall asleep, he and some of the other men listened to the elder man's exhortations. He even pressed in closer so he could hear better. Suddenly, Omar felt a tap on his shoulder, but didn't respond right away. He figured his white cloth wrap wasn't hiding all that it should or because of his large size, he thought one of the other men was trying to get in front of him to be able to hear better. A minute went by. Omar felt another tap on the same shoulder. Although patience was not his strength, Omar remembered he needed to keep it together in front of his elder and the other men gathered tightly around him.
However, by the third tap, Omar got impatient and quickly turned around with a look of disdain on his face. What he saw next is still hard for him to explain without choking up with tears. There was a brilliant light shining from behind the Man who stood in front of him. The Man's hair and clothes were brighter than the brightest white Omar had ever seen. In Omar’s mother tongue, the Man in White asked him, "Why are you here?" Kneeling out of the brightness and fear, Omar couldn't answer Him. Again, he heard in his own language, "You don't belong here. Go back home. What you are looking for isn't here." Once the last word was spoken, the Man in White disappeared. Miraculously, none of the other men in the tent noticed anything that had just happened!
Trembling, Omar immediately collected his clothes and shoes and headed to the airport to return home. He knew this turn of events would disappoint and embarrass his family and in-laws, but he was compelled to return. On the flight, Omar tried to come up with a legitimate reason why he didn't complete his Hajj. Could he simply say an angel appeared to him and told him to return home? Could he even say Gabriel told him to return home? Remembering as a child he would not allow compromise in his life, Omar decided to share the truth.
Once he returned, without any understanding of what had transpired, Omar shared his experience with his parents and wife. Immediately, they attempted to cover up what they interpreted as weakness and lack of courage to deal with his alcohol problem. They wanted to ensure no one found out that Omar failed in his quest to complete his religious duties. But like a man possessed, Omar wouldn't allow the lie to stick and began telling everyone what really happened.
Omar's conversion is quite a story as well, but in short, he was visited by Jesus almost weekly. Eventually, he found a Bible. As Jesus instructed, he began reading specific chapters in the Gospels and New Testament. When Omar quickly learned that the Man in White was the very Jesus written about in the Bible, he surrendered his life to Him! Now, Omar serves as a pastor to Muslim background believers.
WHY WE PRAY
Jesus, being our great example, taught us to pray in faith, believing that our Father would give us what we ask for. There are numerous stories of God using the Hajj to reveal the truth of the Bible to Muslims and that Jesus Christ is more than a good prophet—He is God’s Son and the way to salvation. Therefore, knowing this is the heart of God, we are invited to pray and partner with Him in moving mightily among the Muslim people.
HOW TO PRAY
Pray for dreams and visions for Muslims who are on Hajj this year and that the Lord would truly be in the midst of them.
Pray that many Muslims will understand that Jesus, the true Lamb, died as a substitute sacrifice for their sins and that true purity is possible only through Christ.
Pray for those Muslims on Hajj to think about what they believe. Ask God to bring believers into the lives of those who take part in the Hajj this year.