MOLINE -- Hajj is not just an adventure or a vacation, it's a spiritual achievement, according to local Muslims who have done it.|
Hajj is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that about a half dozen of the approximate 850 Muslims living in the Quad-Cities make annually, according to Imam Saad Baig, religious affairs director at the Islamic Center of the Quad-Cities.
Among them is Muslim-convertLisa Killinger, diagnosis and radiology director at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport.
Ms. Killinger was able to complete her pilgrimage last October, during the college's academic fall break.
"I felt as though I answered an invitation," said Ms. Killinger.
Since converting to Islam in 1979, there always had been something stopping her from journeying to Saudi Arabia to complete the fifth pillar of Islam and take part in the world's largest annual religious gathering.
"Either I was too broke or too this or too that, so when my way was suddenly made clear to go to Hajj this year, it was just really exciting because I felt like my faith was somehow completed by making this journey."
Muslims are required to make this sacred pilgrimage at least once in their life, as long as they are physically and financially able to do so.
In 2010, two million pilgrims from more than 100 different countries performed the Hajj, according to Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia statistics.
Although the Hajj only lasts five days during Dhu Al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Muslims have to spend time mentally and physically preparing for the journey, as well.
Mohamad El-Zein, a John Deere engineer who made his first Hajj in 1993, has led groups through the pilgrimage multiple times since then. He compares his training for the Hajj to training for a marathon.
"I do it the old-fashioned way," Mr. El-Zein said. "I walk everywhere and usually more than 10 miles every day while I'm on Hajj. It's not an easy task."
However, according to Imam Saad, who studied the Hajj in deep detail for eight years as an Islamic scholar in South Africa, there's no real way to prepare for it.
"A person can learn about the Hajj for 20 years, but when that person goes there, it's going to be different," Imam Saad said. He and his wife performed Hajj rites in 2010 on their one-year wedding anniversary.
Traveling alongside millions of people in 100-degree heat on an empty stomach and maybe three hours of sleep is something that every pilgrim must overcome while performing the rites of the Hajj, he said.
Pilgrims also have to control their temperament, remain patient and keep a positive mentality during Hajj. If a pilgrim causes harm or breaks their agreement to keep peace while performing the rites, they will have to come back another year to complete it.
"By far it was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I've had four kids and gone through divorce, so I've seen some hard times," Ms. Killinger said. "You're in a great deal of hardship at times and everything might not be to your wishes so you have to rise up to a new level on Hajj."
Before arriving in Mecca, pilgrims must cleanse themselves and enter into a state of purity known as ihram. Men must change into ihram clothing, which consists of two pieces of white cloth that cover the body, while women can choose a color to wear. Once pilgrims are in a state of ihram, they must not shave, use perfume, cut their hair or nails or have sexual intercourse."
"You don't show any of your luxuries," Imam Saad said. "You are just in the condition that your lord wants you to be."
Pilgrims arriving in Mecca make theirway to the Grand Mosque, where they get a glimpse of a large black cubic stone structure called the Kaaba. The stone symbolizes God's throne on earth, which Muslims face five times a day during their daily prayers.
"The first time I saw it is like the first time everyone sees it. You just sit there and cry," Mr. El-Zein said. "It's a spiritual high that no one can describe."
After walking around the Kaaba seven times, pilgrims re-enact other rites that the Prophet Muhammad did during his last visit to Mecca.
Throughout Hajj, pilgrims reflect on their lives and ask for forgiveness from God for all of their sins.
Many pilgrims also choose to fast on this day, although it's not required.
Mr. El-Zein estimates heloses 10-15 pounds after completing Hajj.
Muslims believe that they start life with a clean slate after completing Hajj rites.
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