The month of Dhul Hijjah is once again fast approaching and those fortunate enough to be performing the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Mecca) will have long been making preparations for this blessed time This ground-work will have included the external often frustrating tasks of obtaining visas and making travel arrangements, and the more important - and certainly more difficult - internal spiritual preparations.
But those of us who are unable to perform the Hajj this year can still partake in this blessed month. For Prophet Muhammad (may God's peace and blessings be with him) encouraged us to work harder in the pursuit of good during this time, saying of the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah, in particular:
"There are no days in which righteous deeds
are more beloved to God than these ten days."
This is the period, which precedes the festival of Eid al Adha (The Feast of the Sacrifice) commemorating the monumental sacrifice in which Abraham (may God's peace and blessings be with him), Patriarch of the Semitic faiths, willingly obeyed his Lord's command to sacrifice his beloved son. And as all will know, neither Abraham nor his son were found wanting, and the human sacrificial offering was replaced with a ram.
Each year, in commemoration of this pinnacle of human submission to the will of God, Muslims sacrifice an animal, the meat of which is distributed amongst the poor, friends and family. Of course, the ritual is merely symbolic of an inner ascent that we are all asked to make. The Holy Qur'an reminds us:
`It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches God:
it is your piety that reaches Him'
(Holy Qur'an 22:37)
And as we offer our sacrifices this year, let us also reflect on what greater sacrifices we can make of our God-given resources - our money, energy and time, to name but a few - to assist those around us who may be in need.
Fasting is a sacred rite that assists spiritual growth and is observed in most of the world's religions. In addition to the fast of Ramadan, Muslims are also encouraged to fast during the first nine days of the month, and in particular on the ninth of the month which coincides with the Day of 'Arafah which marks the culmination of the Hajj. Fasting on this day, the Prophet taught, is an expiation of sins for two years - those of the preceding year and of the year ahead.
Gratitude to God is due from any who have been able to grow (in any measure), during this period, for as the Holy Qur'an advises:
`Â…And that you should magnify God for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him'.
(Holy Qur'an 2:185)
This is traditionally observed in the form of chanting the Takbeer (Magnifying God), this being encouraged from sunset on the ninth of Dhul Hijjah until mid-afternoon on the thirteenth of the month.
God's blessings are concentrated in certain places and periods of time. Whilst those making the Hajj have the opportunity to benefit from both, those of us remaining behind should certainly resolve to make the most of the moment for it is only through inner spiritual growth that contentment and true happiness is to be found.
`Therefore turn to your Lord in prayer and sacrifice'
(Holy Qur'an 108:2)
May God's peace and blessings be with us all!
Dr Sangeeta Dhami