The Year That Had No Hajj…Almost

This evening I went out to seek the new crescent moon of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar and the moon that marks the beginning of the Hajj – the Pilgrimage embarked on by Muslims around the world to the Sacred Ancient House, the Kaba, in Mecca.

As I stood there looking into the sky the crescent appeared all alone in the sky, a sky that was void of any other thing, not even the colors of sunset really accompanied this moon. It was somewhat underwhelming.

Crescent moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
All Alone

Normally seeing the new moon brings me much joy. However today I was a little sad. The emergence of this evening’s moon brought in the Islamic month known as Dhul Hijjah, or the possessor of the Hajj, because it is in this 12th month of the Islamic calendar that the Hajj takes place. However this year, because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, the authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the caretakers of the sacred mosque in Mecca decided that it would more prudent to limit the number of pilgrims allowed to make the Hajj this year. In fact, they closed the Hajj to anyone not residing in Saudi Arabia and are limiting the number of pilgrims to only a few thousand.

For Muslims, the Hajj is the fifth pillar of the religion and is an obligation on all able-bodied adults who have the physical health and the financial ability to make the journey. Depending on where in the world a person lives, it is a once in a lifetime trip and some will save for decades before making the journey. I was greatly saddened to hear that the authorities were not granting any Hajj visas this year. But the reason for doing so was well justified. Annually, between 1.5 to 2 million pilgrims will congregate in Mecca and the surrounding area to fulfill the rites of the Hajj. Illness during the Hajj is not foreign and it is expected that one will come down with some type of illness during or afterward. I became very ill immediately after I made the pilgrimage as well as most of my friends that traveled with me. We all had a high fever and chills, followed by severe respiratory infection in the sinuses and lungs. I was ill for almost two weeks. A few of my companions needed to go to the hospital there in Suadi Arabia before we traveled back home. I shudder to think of what might occur if 2 million pilgrims were to contract COVID-19 during the Hajj and then travel back to where they came from. The pandemic might become something that could decimate millions around the world.

So while we might have not been able to visit the Sacred Ancient House, those few Guests of the Compassionate, as the pilgrims are known, will have to carry that community-wide communal obligation for the rest of the world population of the Muslims who will not be making the trip. And while we might be prevented from making Hajj and will probably have to celebrate the Holiday of Sacrifice alone due to social distancing guidelines, we are not alone in spirit.

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
Not Alone At All

While we may look up at the moon and think that it is all alone, it looks back down, if it could, and it sees all of us below here on earth, as well as all the trees, mountains, oceans, and animals and together we all glorify our Creator, the Most Compassionate. So this year, in ten days, when the Holiday of Sacrifice is upon us, know that the small sacrifice that we have to make as we socially distance ourselves for the protection of all humanity in trying to quell the spread of this virus that has turned our lives upside down, that it is not an insignificant sacrifice at all.

With that, I wish to all those who will be performing the Hajj this year a blessed and accepted Hajj, and to all the rest an early greeting of Eid Mubarak!

Till next time, stay safe, stay well, protect yourselves and your fellow neighbors and community. Peace to you all!

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Hajj Begins

On Tuesday August 22, 2017 the new crescent moon, now devoid of the crown it wore just a day before while it was in union with the sun, appeared quietly above the horizon.  It is a special moon, marking the beginning of the Hajj or Pilgrimage to Mecca for the world Muslim community.  As I write, millions of people from all nationalities, races, ages, social and economic status the world round are making their way towards Mecca on foot, on animal, by car, boat or plane.  Seeking one goal.  Heeding the call of the Creator and hoping for His Mercy and Forgiveness.  A spectacle unlike any other in the world.

Dhul Hijjah, 1438

May all the Pilgrims have a blessed and accepted Pilgrimage.  And if any of you are going and are reading this, please keep me and my family in your prayers!

Peace to you all!

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From Darkness…

..And into the Light.

That is how the moon appears.

Dhul Hijjah Crescent 1435

It emerges from apparently nowhere and appears before our eyes basking in the light of the sun and guiding us on our journey through time.  We stand under it on this evening in submission and hearing the call to return to the Ancient House, where so many have returned over the millenia.  For those able, the journey of a lifetime begins and will culminate cleansed and given the chance to start anew, freed from the darkness of the self and allowed to enter into the Light of the Divine.

Safe travels and Godspeed, Oh Guests of the Compassionate.  Do not forget us in your prayers.  May your sacrifice be accepted.

For those of us who stay behind, get busy; for the best ten nights of the year start now.

Peace to All.

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Hearing The Call

Thousands of years ago the Patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim in the Arabic), upon the commandment of our Creator, traveled with his family, wife Hajar and son Ismail, south out of Palestine and into the deserts of Arabia to a barren valley known at that time as Becca (today’s modern Mecca).  He left his wife and infant son there and turned around and started to walk away.  Despite the pleas of his wife he did not answer her until she asked him, “is this what your Lord commanded?”.  On that question he answered in the affirmative and continued to walk.  Hajar then replied, “then we shall persevere”.

A few days later their provisions ran out.  Her milk stopped.  The baby started to cry.  Hajar runs to the top of a near by hill, now called Mount Safa, and calls out for anyone to hear her.  She then runs down and to another hill about 1/4 of a mile away now known as Mount Marwah.  She calls out from there as well.  She runs between the two hills seven times calling out for help at each hill.  Her baby, down in the valley is crying and kicking.  Upon the completion of her seventh circuit between the two hills, she suddenly sees down by the feet of her son a spring of water had erupted and water was gushing forth.  This miraculous spring is known as Zamzam, and except for a short time when the ancient Meccans had buried it, it has flowed for thousands of years to this day providing travelers and pilgrims life sustaining water.

With the flow of water in that barren valley, birds began to fly there.  Caravans following the birds also soon arrived.  The great city of Mecca is built at that site.  About nine years go by and Ibrahim returns to visit his family and see the good fortune that was promised would come their way.  He finds a small city has grown around where he left his family.  It was at this time that he was commanded to build the first sanctuary for the worship of the One God and he lays down the foundation of that house.  It was also at this time that he was commanded to sacrifice his son Ismail.  It was this miraculous event where as he was about to draw the blade across his son’s throat, with his eyes closed unable to bear the sight of what he was about to do, hears his young son laughing heartily off to the side.  When he opens his eyes, he finds a ram in the place of his son.

He once again leaves his family only to return years later when his son is a young man.  At this time he and his son raise the house of worship, now known as the Ka’ba, a cubic shaped building.  Its corners are loosely aligned with one pair along the East-West line and the other pair along the North-South line.  Once they completed the house, Ibrahim calls out in supplication that the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth accept the effort that they made.  God replies to him by commanding him to make the call to all humanity to come and worship at that house.  Ibrahim then calls out in as loud a voice as he could.  It reverberated through all the canyons and ravines and every deep crack, and still echos to this day.

In response to that call made thousands of years ago,  on this night the faithful respond: “Hear we are in service O Lord Here we are replying to your call.  Here we are in service, there is no associate with You, Here we are!  Truly all praise is to you, all blessing from you, and to you is the dominion over all things.  There is no associate with You!”

And for the next 9 days, approximately 2 million Muslims of the nearly 1.75 billion on earth, begin to congregate on Mecca to perform the largest annual religious spectacle on the planet – The Hajj.

During the Hajj, Muslims sacrifice their livelihood by leaving it behind, leaving their families behind, their homes and trek out into the desert in worship of the One God, repeating the rites that were done by Hajar, Ibrahim and Ismail thousands of years ago.  Of course no human sacrifices are performed, being prohibited in Islam, but other sacrifices are made showing our devotion to God and our lack of care for material wealth.  It culminates in 9 days on the plain of Arafah 13 miles out in the desert and then back to Mecca on the 10th day where the faithful will circumambulate around the Ka’ba for 3 days during the Holiday of Sacrifice in commemoration of Ibrahim and what he did before they return home.  It is the biggest Muslim holiday of the year, being the second of only two holidays.

The start of the Hajj coincides with the beginning of the 12th month of the year Dhul-Hijjah, the month of the pilgrimage.  The month in the Islamic calendar, as always, starts with the sighting of the new crescent moon, which was seen world round this evening.  Here is the view from Campbell California.

Crescent Moon Dhul Hijjah 1433

Dhul Hijjah Moon, 1433

So to all my Muslims readers, Hajj Mabrur!

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Dhul Hijjah 1432 Begins

Wow, it has been too long since I have posted.  I am sorry.  I have been swamped with teaching, and it only looks like its going to get busier.  In any case several things have developed over the last month.  I promise to get to that news as soon as I get back from the Autumn in Yosemite Valley workshop taking place this weekend.

However tonight, like clockwork we went out to search for the new crescent moon of the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar, Dhul Hijjah.  With good fortune we were able to see this incredibly thin crescent and photograph it.  This moon not only marks the beginning of the 12th month, but also the Hajj or holy pilgrimage to Mecca for the Muslims.  Approximately 2 to 2.5 million Muslims make the annual pilgrimage in a human spectacle that is unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.

To all my Muslim readers, Dhul Hijjah Mubarak and to all the Pilgrims, Hajj Maqbool (may your pilgrimage be accepted).

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1432

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1432

Oh, the particulars of this moon.  Captured at 6:40 pm PDT, at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve in California in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains 37.2° N latitude, 122.2° W Longitude at an elevation of approximately 2300 feet above sea level.  With an altitude of approximately 2° and an azimuth of 242°.  The skies were completely clear.


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Think Thank

I am home today waiting for dinner.  I spent last night making pumpkin pie from scratch and was very proud of myself – it was the first time I ever made a pie.  This morning I finished the pumpkin puree by making two more pumpkin pies! 

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

Then I made a middle eastern rice stuffing that I grew up eating and stuffed a 15 lb turkey with it, and put it in the oven to roast.  I needed some whipping cream for the pies later tonight and headed over to my local Whole Foods market to buy a pint only to find they were completely sold out!  I then made a 10 mile trek to the next nearest Whole Foods to get my pint of organic cream.  Along the way I started to think.

This year the holiday season here in the United States begins with Thanksgiving as the holiday season for the Muslim world comes to its end with Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  For me It will be five days of holiday starting with Thanksgiving and culminating with Eid.  And yet when thinking about these two holidays they seem so diametrically opposed, not in spirit but in practice.  In spirit Thanksgiving is about showing thanks for the blessings and bounty that we have.  I am sure originally thanks was given to God, but today I don’t know who exactly people thank.  Folks today in the U.S. believe in so many different things or in nothing at all that I have given up on trying to understand who thanks what anymore.  Growing up, Thanksgiving was always a strange holiday.  People cooked more food than they could possibly eat, then ate more then is healthy.  Someone, either a guest or neighbor, always consumed to much alcohol, became intoxicated and then spoiled the day with some boisterous diatribe about how the world was all wrong and he never got a fair shake.  The very act of giving thanks on that day seemed so contrived and disingenuous.  All the while there was the guy on the street corner, like today as I left Whole Foods, with a sign in his hand that read “hungry”. 

At the same time this year, 2 million humans converged on Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, for the annual Islamic Pilgrimage. 

Mecca at Hajj

Mecca at Hajj

From all over the world and from every walk of life these people make a sacrifice to get there, and in some cases their entire life savings, and seek out forgiveness for the wrongs they committed in their life so far.  They sacrifice their time, leaving family behind in some cases, and make a trek into and through the desert for a glimmering hope of starting life a new without any mistakes to account for.  After 9 days of slogging through the desert these 2 million people make one more sacrifice.  They purchase an animal; lamb, goat, cow or camel, they have it slaughtered and the meat is given away to those hungry people in the world, wherever they might be.  The meat is processed there in Mecca, flash frozen and then distributed worldwide to those who need food.  After all the Eid that follows the pilgrimage is called the Festival of Sacrifice.  But all is not roses there during the Hajj.  There is wasted food, more waste than I think I have ever seen in my life when I made my Hajj 11 years ago.  Leftover food, half eaten loaves of bread, plastic bags filled with uneaten cooked rice and curry litter the pathways.  For a spectacle like no other where sacrifice and giving are the hallmark, it is utterly embarrasing and repugnant to see so much food discarded.  All the while beggars are every where asking for help.

Growing up in my home these two holidays were about feeding other people rather than feeding ourselves.  Each year my aunt calls me about a week or so before Eid and asks are you going to hold Eid this year?  What she means is – are you going to feed people?  This year she also asked if I and my family were going to spend Thanksgiving with her.  Like my dear departed mother, she has a obsession of generosity that is only placated by feeding people. 

It is said that it is always better to give than to receive.  Thankfulness for something given is expected.  Being thankful for the ability to give is another matter all together.  The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said ‘charity does not diminish wealth’.  What ever one gives out will return ten fold.  The ability to give to and sacrifice for others is deserving of thanks.  It is a state of well being that marks independence and fortune.  It pains me when those that have the ability to give hoard what they have for themselves and leave others to pine for what should be enjoyed by all.

This year my wife and I have the good fortune of hosting our extended family at our home for Thanksgiving.  It was a sacrifice for us as well as times are tough and we have had to tighten our belts a bit.  But the joy we feel in giving out, and receiving the blessings of family in our home is more than we could ever ask for.  This year, think about thanks and what you are thankful for and who you are thankful to for what you have and for what you have the ability to do.


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The Hajj is On

Wednesday evening marked the beginning of the Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. The moon was stark, the sky was beautiful, and the air was bitterly cold. But when you do what you love, nothing can get in the way.

Dhul-Hjjah Begins

Dhul-Hjjah Begins

Good luck to all those making the Pilgrimage, may your scarifice be accepted and may you find what you seek.

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