Pilgrims circumnavigate around the Kaaba, a sacred Islamic building in Mecca during the Hajj. [Image: Zurijeta]

Pilgrims circumnavigate around the Kaaba, a sacred Islamic building in Mecca during the Hajj. [Image: Zurijeta]

Day 19:

Muslims are in bondage to travel to the birthplace of Muhammad and perform certain prayers and rituals, an event known as the hajj.

 

Okay, imagine for a moment that in order to be a follower of Jesus, you have to visit the site of Calvary (literally visit it), and say certain prayers there.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, man or woman, or if you live 3,000 miles from Israel. You are obligated to go…and you have to go at Easter. It is the only time your prayers will be accepted and the ritual will count (you also have to shave your head and offer an animal sacrifice, by the way). If you don’t ever make the pilgrimage, you still have a chance that God will be pleased with you, but you have definitely fallen short of your duty to Him and will have to do lots of extra good deeds in order to make up for your omission.

Praise God that is NOT a requirement for the Christian life!

Jesus made the painful journey to Calvary, all the way to the place called Golgotha. He fulfilled the Law and offered Himself as the sacrifice. Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”

Reverent submission. That is what every devout Muslim is aiming for. Trying to show Allah that they are His willing slaves, able to do everything that he commands. One of Allah’s commands is that every able bodied Muslim visit the birthplace of Muhammad once in his or her lifetime, during the last month of the Islamic calendar.

Each autumn, 3 million Muslims from over 180 countries journey to Mecca, obligated to perform certain rituals and hoping to attain a level of spiritual power that otherwise is out of reach. This is known as the hajj pilgrimage.

For many who make the journey, it is a nightmare.

On top of temperatures that soar to 120 Fahrenheit, and crowds that make a 36-hour wait for the bus to the city not unusual, Muslims who visit the birthplace of Muhammad are at risk of sexual assault, human trafficking, fires, stampedes, outbreaks of deadly diseases. The logistics of having 3 million people in the same small area for five days are mind-boggling and often tragic.

Since 1990, roughly 5,393 pilgrims have died in stampedes, killed in massive fires, or crushed to death in other accidents. At least 15,000 have been seriously injured. (Note: last year, al-Jazeera reported that 2,177 people were killed in a stampede on September 24. However, Saudi officials claimed that only 700 were killed. The suppression of details by the Saudi government makes it very difficult to get an accurate tally of those injured or killed).

In November 2015, out of 104 Islamic travel agencies that “helped” Muslims travel to Mecca, 95 were convicted of engaging in human trafficking. One report noted that during last year’s hajj, over 11,000 Bangladeshi Muslims never returned to their homes and are suspected of being enslaved in Saudi Arabia.

Poor Muslim parents have admitted to bringing along a child and selling him or her to a wealthier Muslim in order to finance the expensive trip (generally costs between $12,000 and $20,000 per person).

Women report rampant sexual assault and harassment, treatment that is often dismissed with the attitude of “it is crowded, what do you expect?”

One Indonesian woman (a writer and PhD student), who was sexually assaulted several times while on the pilgrimage, wrote:

“These incidents taught me that sexual harassment can happen in sacred places where acts of evil are not supposed to occur. They showed me that women can fall prey to sexual harassment anywhere, no matter how they dress. While in Mecca, I covered my whole body except my face and hands, but harassment still took place.To prevent sexual abuse, we do not need to improve the way we dress, we need to change our mind-set.”

Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad, is often the birthplace of a Muslim’s disillusionment with Islam.

Today, we pray for people are spiritually weary and thirsty, who are tired of Islam’s physically exacting demands and human-centered rituals to turn to Jesus Christ.

To those who come to Him with parched lips, He gives the water of Life. Jesus is able to do more than “change mindsets” and outward behaviors; He is the One who can cause springs of living water to flow from a person’s inner being (John 4:14). We pray for Muslims in His Name. Amen.

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