Abdul Kulane Talk on his Pilgrimage to Mecca

/ 18 November 2013

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a talk by CSBSJU Peace Studies alum Adbul Kulane, who graduated recently enough that I was around when he was for two years, on his pilgrimage to Mecca. I feel that rather than directly introduce the talk to you I will just embed it here. After the break I’ve pasted the reflection I wrote on the talk for a class so you can get a hint of my thoughts on it. You should know, the person recording this talk did not record the Q/A part (I know from seeing them taking apart the camera setup while Abdul was still answering questions)… So where my reflection may well refer to stuff from there you won’t have a reference point from within the video, unfortunately.

In this reflection I will tie three points from Abdul Kulane’s talk on his experiences on the pilgrimage to Mecca with my own comments coming out of the context of my academic and life experiences. The first point I will discuss is a reflection on the signs of globalization that Abdul Kulane noted. The second point I will string into my reflection is in regard to the continent and country groupings yet all remaining of one identity while on the Hajj. The third point I intend to weave in is how managed and controlled everything seemed to be.

The last major element of Abdul’s talk was on the signs of globalization evident around the bookending (and intermediary?) elements of the Hajj. Fast food restaurants, other food-related global companies, and the like having a presence. On the face of it this is the reality, albeit a sad one, of our modern world. But that something becomes a lasting memory from a sacred pilgrimage required for a religious belief seems, well, just wrong. The prescribed practices done individually are the center of your experience while on such a journey. Though you may pass such places that speak globalization on either end, it seems inappropriate for those to be memorable. Yet, these are staples of the world we all live in and share. So in that sense their appearance is perhaps justified.

That calls for me to bring in the second point I wish to reflect on here. 2 million people from 188 countries came together as one identity for the Hajj. The equality this gave brought to question the example it should lend to our world. But, still, the tents people slept in on the Hajj had a segregating (though I hate to use such a dehumanizing term here…) approach. Tents as a whole were split by continent, such that the Americans (38 from MN alone) would not reside with the Africans who were in second majority. In the tents folks then got split into groupings by country, which is how they held together during the walks as well.

We see that the Hajjis came from many diverse backgrounds whilst being brought together under one identity for the 6-day duration. As such having signs of those home territories could be considered a part of this ultimate melting pot of pilgrimage. Here is how the signs of globalization may fit in. If our first identity, even while having a secondary identity, where all the same what a difference that would make on our Earthly landscape. The kernel of any dispute, much less war, is difference. To ascribe to one identity would vastly diminish the pull that conflict has on our society. We may not have something quite like a heavenly peace, but at least we’d be assured that peace is possible. Diversity is necessary, too, which is why we must maintain the separate identities, but peace may well only be possible if we also internalize a shared identity.

Abdul mentioned towards the start of his talk how during the entire Hajj they never had to unpack their own bags. At the end of his talk he said that the group who you pay to go on this pilgrimage takes care of everything from hotel reservations to the fine foods they ate. Such care enables the Hajjis to focus all their attention on the devotion necessary to perform the requisite actions. As a pillar of Islam the importance of this pilgrimage cannot be understated. It therefore makes sense that the focus could be on the individual practices through which the Hajji communicates with Allah. As you give up some things taken for granted you step into the sandals of the prophets whereby you exist for these 6 days in the spotlight of Allah. The actions performed may seem rigorous to us, but are not seen as such to the Hajji. For them it is spiritually engaging even if their bodies may externally seem to suffer in the heat and physical activity. Perhaps there is no equivalent practice in religious tradition for which we can relate, but nonetheless we have opportunities to step into similar sandals.

What we can draw from the Hajj experience as Abdul described it is tied up with its position as one of the pillars of Islam. Perhaps no, or few, other religions have a similar pilgrimage built into their tenets. But all other religions hold the call to maintain an equivalent open channel of forgiving communication with God. Where Muslims walk in the footsteps of the prophets and ask their needs very clearly during the Hajj (this isn’t to say they don’t do this at all other time too) we all are called to live in concert with such a communication channel. The very core of sin, and how we are not holy, is that we humans lack the capability to fully engage in such communication. We have seen exceptions, and there is one interpretation of sainthood, but in the scheme of our human family they are miniscule.

Hearing someone describe their personal experiences of the Hajj may be unheard of for certain members of every religious tradition. But it is an important experience to hear about as it opens to consideration the ways in which we are taking an active role in our faith lives. It shows to us that we cannot hope to eternally be separate and treat our view as the only view. Ultimately we are of one family, the human family, and this extends to everyone the call to respect the differences because they are really just different traits of the same identity.

A final point to make in this reflection is related to the inherent privilege it is to hear a talk like the one we heard from Abdul. It isn’t often that you can hear about the Hajj from someone who has recently made the journey. This lends to our experience as his audience an air that is not academic about the Hajj, but rather practical information drawn from personal recent experience. Perhaps the rareness of such a talk is a sad commentary on our society. People who make the journey, as with all of the same Muslim tradition, seem to feel like they cannot speak on equal terms with the majority of those of us in the US. History need not show this, as our current time is evidence enough. But what a terrible commentary that while these individuals went on this journey with fellow Hajjis, by nature from every corner of the world, they feel as if they cannot bring the message of equality back to their home, at least in the US.

If there was one thing we could all learn from the Hajj experience it is the single identity (perhaps relate this back to the nonidentity I discussed in an earlier talk reflection) that these diverse people created by having even just one thing in common which in turn led to an inherent peace within their community. We’re all human. What more in common do we need than that? We are all capable of creating such an Hajji-like communal identity for ourselves with our neighbors. Let’s actually do that rather than insist on the other and increasingly mold situations conducive to violence up to and including war.