Andrea and Tasneem are celebrating together, and we offer our thoughts as well:
Hajj is an annual pilgrimage that is obligatory on all Muslims to perform ONCE in their lifetime IF they are physically and financially able. The fact that Hajj is one of the 5 pillars (thus a foundation of the Muslim faith) speaks to its importance in one's spiritual journey. And yet, the condition of it being obligatory is IF one is physically and financially able. This speaks to the mercy of God and the intent behind it. Hajj is not meant to be a burden but a way to come closer to Allah, closer to oneself, and closer to the community as all forms of discrimination are crossed out during this pilgrimage. It is an opportunity to repent, reflect and realign one's priorities. Many Muslims (family and friends) who come back from performing Hajj report a change of heart, discovery of greater strength and patience, deeper self-awareness, feeling of inner peace, desire to return, and more! Each ritual performed in Hajj has a specific significance that can be traced back to Prophet Abraham who first built the Holy Kaaba with his son.
What about the other millions of Muslims who cannot? I have not had the opportunity to perform Hajj or Umrah (lower pilgrimage that can be performed anytime of the year) myself yet. So, what does Hajj symbolize to me? It is indeed an opportunity to pray, fast, and reflect on the teachings one learns from exactly where he is. And Eid-ul-Adha is an opportunity to rejoice and celebrate...celebrate life with gratitude, humility, & faith.
I remember one time when I was younger, and in Pakistan for Eid-ul-Adha. A few days before Eid we went to the market & brought home 2 goats. My siblings, mom & I took care of the goats. I would pet it & feed it. When eid came, my uncle came to do the sacrifice (based on Prophet Abraham's near sacrifice of his son). It was heart wrenching to watch & even harder to eat anything after that. While we are not asked by Allah to sacrifice a loved one, Eid is an opportunity to realize our priorities-- to serve & live life with joy, letting go of attachments & as a result of it come closer to Allah in humility. Trials & hardships come & go but what keeps us grounded is our faith. I love how Hajj would be incomplete without Eid!
In the month of Elul, before Rosh Hashanah, we begin to awaken ourselves, again, to the process of Teshuvah ("turning" "returning" "repenting"). We start individually, and by Rosh Hashanah, the "Birthday of the World," we are coming together to collectively to acknowledge and remember God as Creator, and therefore Judge, of all the world. And the 10 day-journey of intensely inspecting and correcting one's course begins.
For me, this time - especially between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- is a time to reflect on which ever-present parts of myself I have not properly evidenced in my life and in my relationships. What changes have I been able to make in the past year that I want to habituate and bring forward? What do I need to repair before I stand before God - as each of us do - as the High Priest during the Avodah service on Yom Kippur afternoon? As part of that service, we recite the sacrifices which were made deep in the heart of the Temple when it stood - and we remember that once the sacrifices were complete, the High Priest would emerge, and everyone would declare "Cleansed!" I love that we have to go through the process of Teshuvah very intentionally and specifically, but there is also a notion that "the day itself atones" - this is the Midat Rachamin - the essence of God's Mercy - to which Tasneem alludes above.
For me, the word that has become most important during this time is "Integrity". This time of year is an incredible opportunity to ask oneself essential questions: have I acted in the world the way I had hoped to? Have I expressed in my relationship with others and the world the things that I know to be true in my heart of hearts? What do I have to correct, and what steps to I have to take in the next year, to get closer to this path? Can I stand (at least for a few minutes), with my community and say with them "We are cleansed?" Before the work begins again?
We are wishing everyone a good journey -- and a good celebration at the journey's end! May this year bring peace, understanding and healing to us all.