A Mock Hajj to Mecca
The Muslim Student Association guides students through a reenactment of the spiritual journey
Irene Kan, Cavalier Daily Associate Editor
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The journey to Mecca, formally known as the Hajj, is a dream for Muslims all over the world, who believe they should make the pilgrimage once during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this dream is not always attainable — so the Muslim Student Association decided to bring Mecca to Charlottesville.
The mock Hajj was held March 26 in the Amphitheater as part of Islam Awareness Week. Third-year College student Nafeesa Sultana said the MSA wanted to expose the University to the Islamic religion. Not all MSA members agreed, however, that a mock Hajj was the right approach. Because the Hajj. as one of Islam’s five pillars, is an extremely sacred ritual, some were of the opinion that it should be kept within the Muslim community.
Though the decision to hold the first mock Hajj last year was rather controversial, all debate seemed to have disappeared this year. The event was in full swing, with the area covered with various ethnic foods from countries all over the world, symbolizing the many demographics that partake in the Muslim religion, Sultana said.
“We want to be able to educate,” Sultana said.
The food was one of the highlights of the event, attracting students from every corner of Grounds. “The food looked really good,” second-year Nursing student Caitlin Burchfield said, who admitted it was the reason she stopped by.
But the MSA insisted that all visitors take a guided tour and experience the mock Hajj before filling themselves up. The tours began at a table of trifold display boards, each providing information on modern-day political issues concerning Islam such as women’s rights. From there, visitors met guides dressed in traditional Hajj garb. The men wrapped two pieces of white, unsewn cloth around their bodies, while the women covered as much of their bodies as possible. Fourth-year Engineering student Asad Saqib, a tour guide, said this is done as a sign of equality before Allah.
The first stop of the tour was the makeshift Kaaba, a black hut with a yellow stripe running around its four sides. Tradition states that the Kaaba, located inside a mosque, is the holiest place in Islam, Saqib said. The Koran describes how the Kaaba was rebuilt by Abraham and his second** son, Ishmael, on its original foundations, which were laid by Adam.
Muslims regard Kaaba as the house of Allah, Saqib said, and Muslims display their reverence and unity by praying in the direction of the house.
He described the experience of being one among six million people packed into a mosque twice the size of the Amphitheater.
“You see every single type of person you could possibly imagine,” Saqib said. “I’ve never seen such diversity.”
Participants in a Hajj then continue their pilgrimage together as one large group. After walking around the Kaaba and visiting a black stone, symbolic of absorbing one’s sins, the pilgrims then walk back and forth seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwah, Saqib said. To symbolize this in the Amphitheater, the MSA painted pictures of mountains and hung them between the two sides of the stage. Second-year College student Surur Sajanlal, another tour guide, said this dates back to the days of Abraham, whose wife Hagar ran between the dry mountains in desperate search of water for Ishmael. Ishmael hit the ground with his feet, and up sprang the Zamzam Well, Sajanlal said.
The crowd then moved across the Amphitheater to a space representing the plain of Arafat. At this location, Muhammad gave his last speech, and people prayed and asked for forgiveness with such sincerity that many could not hold back tears, Saqib said. Afterward, Hajj participants went to Muzdalifah to gather stones to throw at Jamarat, which is symbolic of throwing stones at the devil. The mock Hajj took the students to a rocky area of pebbles and then to tall, black pillars, much like the Jamarat.
Sajanlal said Hajj pilgrims then journey further to Mina for two or three days, during which time prayer and ritual sacrifice of sheep took place. During this time, many stay in large, white tents. Many others, however, cannot afford to do so, as the journey to Mecca costs them their life savings.
“People save their whole lives to go on this trip and they sleep in the gutters, literally,” Sajanlal said.
But the pilgrims do as much as possible to help one another out, Sajanlal added, because they are all in this together.
Saqib echoed this sentiment, saying that “Old, young, rich, poor, sick, healthy — everyone there is your brother, everyone there is your sister.”
Saqib himself found three brothers during his Hajj two years ago. He was one of many standing in a mosque. There was one man in the front who was completely immersed in his prayer and therefore was not paying any attention to the commotion behind him. Saqib linked arms with the men standing next to him, neither of whom spoke the same language, so as to protect the praying man. When the man in front finished, he rotated with one of the other men, and they continued this cycle until all four had prayed. Afterwards, as the four left, one man kissed Saqib on the forehead. Saqib said he knows he will never see any of them again, but they were, and are, his brothers.
These personal stories during the tours helped the mock Hajj come to life, said second-year College student Christine Graff. Similarly, second-year College student Jaimie Mertz said she had heard about the event from her roommate, but noted it did not become significant to her until she heard the guides’ experiences.
But the mock Hajj had a greater impact than just bringing Mecca to Charlottesville for University students. It also inspired some students to want to experience the pilgrimage, which is the largest in the world, for themselves.
“We want to go on a Hajj now,” said first-year Engineering student Alex King, who visited the mock Hajj with a group of friends. Such students could not help but be drawn into the unity of the mock Hajj, as if Charlottesville’s winds blew them straight to Mecca.
**Ishmael (as) was the first son of Abraham (as). The reporter mistakenly wrote second.