‘The greatest regular peace conference’

The Standing at Arafat is the pinnacle of Haj and an unforgettable experience in the journey of a lifetime. Today, the pilgrims will spend the afternoon at Arafat, praying to Allah for guidance and forgiveness.

In his book “Islam in Focus,” the late scholar Hammudah Abdalati who was Associate Professor of Sociology at Utica College of Syracuse University, called Haj “the greatest regular conference of peace known in the history of mankind. In the course of Haj, peace is the dominant theme; peace with God and one’s soul, peace with one another and with animals, peace with birds and even with insects.”

He continued his description of the pilgrimage as “a course of spiritual enrichment and moral rearmament, a course of intensified devotion and disciplinary experience, a course of humanitarian interests and inspiring knowledge – all put together in one single institution of Islam.” Would that every Muslim could perform Haj this year, because my brothers and sisters in Islam are in desperate need of strength and enlightenment at this difficult juncture!

Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, Kosovo and so many other places have endured daily misery for years. But now, due to the inertia of the Islamic Ummah in tackling those horrors, Muslims around the world are persecuted with impunity. We have become prey to tyrants all over the world.

One out of every five human beings is a Muslim. Six million Americans are Muslims, and Islam is a fast-growing religion in the United States. In places where Muslims are facing daily terror, they form huge minority populations.

For example, there are over 100 million Muslims in India and more than 50 million Muslims in the former Soviet republics. If there is strength in numbers, then with numbers such as these, where have we Muslims gone wrong?

It is a complex issue, but I believe that we have brought some of the current grief upon ourselves. Look at the Muslims standing at Arafat today: two million Muslims acting as one group, joined in collective, constructive action. “Labbaika Allahumma labbaik,” the pilgrims beseech Allah – “We beg for Your mercy and blessings.”

But that is today. Tomorrow too many of that group and all of us will go back to behaving like squabbling rabble.

I call on my brothers and sisters to stop the bickering and focus on saving the Ummah. Even on this most blessed occasion, it cannot be forgotten that while millions of Muslims are at Arafat praying for peace, on the opposite side of the peninsula, thousands of troops are preparing for war. They will be using the latest technology to wreak deadly havoc.

For weeks my telephone has been ringing nonstop. Media organizations everywhere have asked me question after question about war and its consequences. In some voices I can hear excitement at the prospect of mass destruction. It sickens me. I am exhausted. My sleep is haunted by visions of the violence that now seems inevitable. I have seen war, and it is the ultimate depravity. I have seen war and it is never a solution.

This moment has arrived because we have neglected our faith. We have allowed the voices of intolerance and extremism to smother the gentler tones of those who prefer to work for inclusiveness and moderation. Instead of searching for common goals, we have become bogged down in individual differences. This is a pity because the word “Muslim” denotes no race, ethnicity or national origin. It only indicates the desire to submit to the will of Allah.

At Arafat there is submission and there is peace. No pilgrim feels deprived of his or her individuality. Instead, all rejoice in the oneness of their being. This is a valuable lesson for the entire Islamic Ummah. The essence of Arafat must become the foundation of our efforts to work toward peace and end the suffering of all people, regardless of their religious or ethnic background. My best wishes to all our readers on this blessed occasion.

Khaled Almaeena is Editor-in-Chief of the Arab News.