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‘The power of humanity’: CT Muslims embark on Hajj, a transformative holy pilgrimage 

FILE: Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims moving around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Hassan Ammar
/
AP
Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims moving around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

This month, Muslims from around the world are traveling to Saudi Arabia to complete the holy pilgrimage known as Hajj. Muslims from Connecticut are also making the journey.

Windsor resident Asif Chaudhry decided to make Hajj after recently reconnecting with his faith. Chaudhry, a 39-year-old fleet manager, was raised culturally Muslim, but only seriously started studying his religion a few years ago.

He’s looking forward to going on a spiritual journey.

“It’s meant to be a transformative process, where you change the entire perspective of your life,” Chaudhry said. “Even if you’re a practicing Muslim before Hajj … there’s always room for improvement, no matter how good you are.”

Pilgrims undergo a transformation, said Safwan Shaikh, imam of the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center.

“One of the great things is, when they come back, they want to share their story,” Shaikh said. “They become closer to the community. So you do see a spiritual change that really affects their eagerness and their confidence in Islam.”

Last year, about 2 million pilgrims made their way to Mecca, which is the official spelling of the Islamic holy city. This year’s Hajj begins June 14 and concludes June 19.

Windsor resident Asif Chaudhry decided to make Hajj after recently reconnecting with his faith.“It’s meant to be a transformative process, where you change the entire perspective of your life,” Chaudhry said. “Even if you’re a practicing Muslim before Hajj … there’s always room for improvement.”
Khaleel Rahman
/
Connecticut Public
Windsor resident Asif Chaudhry decided to make Hajj after recently reconnecting with his faith.“It’s meant to be a transformative process, where you change the entire perspective of your life,” Chaudhry said. “Even if you’re a practicing Muslim before Hajj … there’s always room for improvement.”

As part of their faith, Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime if they have the financial and physical capabilities. Chaudhry realized he met these criteria last year, but was too late to register.

“I made every effort that I could to go this year, and I was chosen by Allah [God],” he said.

As part of the journey, Chaudhry and other male pilgrims are only allowed two white sheets to wear as clothing for the entire duration of the pilgrimage. Female pilgrims are required to wear loose-fitting clothing that covers most of their body.

“One of the most amazing features about Hajj is that you'll have CEOs who are billionaires, millionaires, and then you'll have somebody who might be a blue-collar worker, perhaps barely making minimum wage … and they're all the same,” Shaikh said. “You can't tell them apart, and that's how we're going to be in front of God.”

Shaikh says this pilgrimage provides lessons for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“It shows you the power of humanity when they put away, not in a demeaning way, their differences, but they make sure they come together in one goal,” Shaikh said. “There is a positivity there that I think we're really missing nowadays.”

Safwan Shaikh of the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center
Provided
Safwan Shaikh of the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center

The period of Hajj falls within the month of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th and final month in the Islamic lunar calendar. The first 10 days of this Islamic month are considered the holiest days of the year for Muslims, who are encouraged to increase their good actions during this time.

“One [time] that most people know about is Ramadan, where people are fasting, and the nights of Ramadan are quite special,” Shaikh said. “I myself may not be doing Hajj, but I can do good deeds here in my own way, as a way to symbolically be with those pilgrims who are thousands and thousands of miles over[seas].”

On the 10th day of Dhul-Hijjah, Muslims not embarking on the pilgrimage will celebrate the second main Islamic holiday, Eid-ul-Adha, which commemorates the Quranic story of Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice to God. This year, Eid-ul-Adha will be celebrated on June 16.

“Eid-ul-Adha really becomes a kind of a way to celebrate that memory, and practically speaking, especially in Muslim countries, it is a celebration,” Shaikh said. “People are cooking … there's picnics everywhere. It really is actually the bigger holiday, and it's quite a feast and a party.”

Khaleel Rahman is a producer for 'Audacious with Chion Wolf.'

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