Publications & Statements by Imam

01/14/06: Challenges begin on return from Mecca

Challenges begin on return from Mecca

Jan. 14, 2006

Detroit news -- I was one of more than 10,000 U.S. Muslims this past week who joined an ocean of pilgrims to visit the holy city of in , the birthplace of Prophet Mohammad. I can't bring you the delightful weather here, but I can share some of this sacred journey.

Performing the hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for every Muslim who can afford it. It is one of the most important aspects of Islam.

The supreme purpose of the hajj, or pilgrimage to the , is to submit to God's superiority; to end superiority based on race, class and nationality; and to reform the pilgrim's relationship with himself, the Lord and society.

There is no other religious gathering as diverse. Every single country in the world is represented. Three million people camp in tents in the deserts of Arafat and Mina.

The hajj ritual begins with replacing one's clothes with two simple pieces of white cloth and entering a state of sacredness. For at least three days, the pilgrim must avoid all distractions. The goal is to forget about one's self and direct all attention solely to the Lord.

For thousands of years, billions of people have retraced the footsteps of Hagar between the two mountains of Safa and Marwa, where she desperately searched for water for her son. Muslims perform this rite seven times during the hajj to honor the memory of a black slave woman who became the wife of Abraham.

A beautiful memory from this trip was visiting the of east of where the Prophet Mohammad received his first revelation. It was difficult in the heat, taking me nearly four hours to climb to its peak. There, I saw the small place where Mohammad used to meditate.

It was an indescribable feeling to say a short prayer in the same spot where the prophet prayed. We also visited where Satan tried to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son as was God's command.

Then we celebrated the start of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice. More than 2 million camels, cows and sheep were sacrificed. The Saudi government sends huge quantities of this meat to nations in desperate need of food.

The Saudi government tries to offer good services to the hajj guests, yet much more needs to be done to modernize this religious observation. It took our group 18 hours to drive the approximately 20 miles between Arafat and Mina out of .

I also hope the kingdom continues to improve safety to prevent tragedies. I pray for the victims and send my condolences to the families of those who died in accidents during the hajj.

The pilgrimage is the greatest international celebration of brotherhood, unity, forgiveness and reconciliation. You can feel the presence of God invigorating your spirit.

The Sacred House in holds almost 1 million worshipers, while millions more filled all the streets around the building. In his Friday sermon, the imam of condemned the evil of terrorism as a disease against Islam and humanity. I prayed not only for my family and friends, but also for our beautiful country, .

The pilgrimage has its own difficulties, but the real challenge starts after hajj, when the pilgrims go home and share with their communities the lessons they learned from this journey. I thank God for the opportunity to make this trip.

Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi heads the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights