Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hajj I: Malcolm X

Perhaps the most significant religious pilgrimage in the modern era is the Muslim Hajj. All Muslims who are able are expected to make the Hajj at least once in their lifetime.

The thematic structure of the Hajj echoes events in the life of Abraham. The pilgrim is invited to offer to God the same radical "yes" to God that he did. The Hajj is a symbolic journey to God--indeed, the Hajji is to make the Hajj as though never to return. All one's earthly responsibilities are to be settled before leaving. Those who return are expected to be different, transformed by this encounter, by saying this radical "yes."

Pilgrims make the Hajj by the millions, setting off to Mecca from all corners of the world. While the physical challenges in terms of distance covered in the Hajj are minimal to those of the Camino, I suspect the event becomes difficult in one way the camino is not. The crowds themselves become a significant factor. Pilgrims are crowded together into a huge throng: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Hajj has a website with the message, "Be peaceful, orderly and kind. No crushing."

The first account I read of the Hajj was in The Autobiography of Malcom X. Malcolm went to the Hajj as a man deeply formed and scarred by his experience of the senseless racism in which he was immersed in America. His involvement with the Black Muslims reversed but did not fundamentally alter that race-centered world-view. The Hajj did:

"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient holy land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the holy scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors....
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. ....I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their “differences” in color." (Autobiography)

Malcolm's Hajj didn't end America's racism, of course. It did heal Malcolm's.

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