10/24/2012 04:56 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2012

Hajj and the Journey of a Peacemaker

This morning I was preparing my 6-year-old son for his Islamic school Hajj celebration day. They practice the various rites in order to prepare for what it will be like when, Inshallah (God-willing), they have the chance to make this sacred journey. As we spoke of the purpose of Hajj, three very distinct connections resonated with me as a peacemaker.

1. Equality of Humankind

As you may know, Muslims dress in nearly identical clothing in Hajj and it is the symbol of equality of creation that is emblazoned across the sightline of a person who walks in this crowd of humanity. This ideal calls upon us to not just set aside for a moment the various stratifications of people, it causes us to physically see that for a moment or two it may be possible. For a peacemaker, we know that the progenitor of conflicts that are destructive come from when people start from a place of outward dominance against another. It is also further complicated when parties look only toward the outer trappings of a man or woman as their full measure of humanity. Hajj calls upon our inner eye, the one that sees the spiritual worth of a person over the physical manifestation. Your beauty is found not in the physical aspects, but emanates from your capacity to exhibit kindness.

2. Practice of Peace-Producing Activities

When in a state of ihram, or doing the period of pilgrimage, Muslims are not to even harm plants. This most sacred obligation of no-harm checks the normal patterns and routines from which we as humans derive value. We are interrupted in very direct ways to cut down the walls that allow harm to be possible. Even more importantly, we practice it over the course of a few days. And for me, the part of Muslim piety that is so distinctive is that the corner stone of our formation is done in community. For a Muslim, there is a unique aspect to our spiritual formation which includes the communal practice of an activity so that inner pietism reaches a stage of participation that encourages not just individual transformation,but the movement of a whole group of people towards self-improvement.

3. Connection With Nature

Though it may not be the case as much in modern times, the rituals of Hajj are heavily ensconced in truly natural surroundings of mountains, hills, caves and desert. We follow the footsteps of Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them). We run through the mountains back and forth reenacting the plea of Hajira for life sustaining water. Some of us climb the remote hill to find the cave the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) received the first revelation. It is physically grueling, water is scarce. The very act of being in the womb of the earth reminds a peacemaker that ultimately the ecosystem of life is where peacemaking is most preciously needed. Humility is infused into the soul when realizing that this hard landscape was one that does not forgive easily and that humans are intertwined not just with each other but with the destiny of our planet and the Divine offers that protection from the elements So while you and I may not make it on the pilgrimage of Hajj this year, what lessons may we derive from this collective and individual journey? Some for me:
  • Spend time in the belly of nature to remind myself both of God's majesty and capacity for building beauty. To listen to the echoes present in the spaces between mountains, trees and hills that teach us lessons hard to come by in a classroom.
  • Build a community of practitioners who can help me to practice peacemaking attitudes, actions and reflect back to me whether I am improving or slipping back into patterns of harming others.
  • Watch the words I speak in their capacity to harm as well. Hajj is said to be a time to set aside arguments and seek forgiveness from those you've harmed and from the Ultimate Forgiver as well. So for this moment, I take stock of my harms that I've caused with my words, my actions and my deeds. I will bend this ego into asking for human forgiveness and also to return this heart to her Creator and ask for the mercy that is abundant and without limit.

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