This is what a Muslim looks like. A humble, loving, pious man who has devoted the majority of his daytimes finding his faith again.
This is my father.
He is finally getting his wish - to participate in the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. This yearly event calls Muslims from all over the world to Mecca, to demonstrate their faith and their submission to God, between the 8th and 13th days of the last month of the Islamic calendar. The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and the final requirement to enter heaven. Only Muslims who are healthy and financially able to make the pilgrimage are required to do so. All pilgrims wear a only a Ihram, which consists of two white sheets only (no underwear). The purpose of wearing the Ihram is that one should not be able to tell a prince from a pauper.
For those of you who don’t know my father, he is a very soft-spoken, caring man. He has always put others before himself. When I was a kid, I never really saw my father as a religious man. He always believed in God, but didn’t pray five times a day or go to the Mosque, as devout Muslims do. His love for his wife, who was Catholic, allowed me to be brought up as Catholic. He never judged other religions or pushed his beliefs on others or my mother or me. He always told me that as long as I believed in God, that was what mattered to him. During high school, I studied all the major religions and learned a lot about Islam. Now, as a non-practicing Catholic who sees my father’s devotion daily, I think I know more about Islam than my own religion. So I am very bothered by the hatred toward Muslims in this country. I feel like the religion and the people who belong to the faith are misunderstood and tend to get defined by a radicalized, insane few.
The loss of my mother in 2006 changed my father. He and I realized that time is fleeting and life can end at any time. I asked him: Are you ready? I meant: Did he have his affairs in order? We weren’t logistically ready for my mother’s death, and that made her passing even more painful. We missed her terribly, and now we had to talk about casket prices and Mass hymns? That got my father thinking. He wasn’t ready logistically. But more importantly in his mind, he wasn’t ready spiritually either.
So in 2007, my father renewed his faith and found new purpose beyond doting on his grandchildren. He once again became a devout Muslim, praying five times a day, giving to the poor, praying when he didn’t have to pray, as he tried to make up prayers for all those years he didn’t pray. The only thing that was left to accomplish was the final pillar, the Hajj.
So today, his dream comes true as he flies to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to be one of 3 million pilgrims participating in the 2013 Hajj. After the two-week pilgrimage, he will fly to Amman, Jordan, to reunite with his two sisters, who he hasn’t seen in more than 18 years.
I’m very proud of you, Dad. I hope your experience during the Hajj is everything you hope it will be and more. Inshallah!!