Have you gone on a Faith Journey?

For centuries believers from many faiths have ‘gone on pilgrimage’.  Some of these, like the stories told in the Canterbury Tales, seem to have a ‘festive’ atmosphere about them, whereas others involve heroic feats of physical endurance before the penitent can have access to the ‘sacred place’ or ‘shrine’. So what is it that drives millions of people to take this journey? What do they seek? What do they get? Is there a place for this spiritual practice in today’s hurly burly world? Again, from a different perspective, those of us who are blessed to live on this island, perhaps feel that we have found our own ‘sacred place’…..that special place where we are renewed and watered.

The Gabriola Ecumenical Society continued its focus on ‘spiritual adventures” this year by bringing three speakers to give us a glimpse into these questions. Three people who have chosen to include “Pilgrimages and Sacred spaces” in their spiritual journey.

Dr Linda St Clair, a retired Anglican minister, has gone on pilgrimage to St David’s, Wales and Iona in Scotland and presented a film by John O’Donohue.

Amr Ahmed Farghali has made his pilgrimage to Mecca as a member of the Islamic faith. Amr is closely involved in the Nanaimo Islamic mosque giving sermons at Friday prayer meetings. Amr gave us a very thorough talk on Islam and provided much background so that we would understand how pilgrimage or the Hajj, the fifth “pillar of Islam” would fit into the Faithfull’s spiritual life.

Allah is Truth, beauty and justice. A Muslim follows the 5 pillars of faith.

The Muslim 5 pillars of faith are:

  1. Shahada – the declaration of faith in which God (Allah) is one and Mohammed is his prophet.
  2. Salat – the faithful pray 5x a day according to the movement of the sun.  The most liked deed by Allah is ‘praying on time’ and this is observed using the sun at dawn, noon, afternoon, after sunset and nightfall.
  3. Sawm – fasting in the month of Ramadan (9th) from dawn to dusk. The object is to use this as a time to” fast” all the senses such as the tongue – no gossip or lies, ears – don’t listen to gossip, eyes – no envy or desire. One works on control and purifies the soul and body.
  4. Zakat – charity in which one gives 2.5% of the income one has on the first day of Ramadan.
  5. Hajj – the pilgrimage one needs to do at least once in a lifetime.  The 12th month is the Hajj month with the new moon being the first day of the month of 28 or 29 days. Additionally the first, seventh, eleventh and twelfth months are also truce months with no inter band fighting allowed.

How the Hajj is done.

The centre of the sacred area in Mecca is the Kaaba; a cube shaped building which has a mosque built around it. It is 43’high, 36.2’ x 42.2’with the black stone in the eastern corner. Only one family has the key and this dates back to before Mohammed. They can choose to take people inside the Kaaba. The Kaaba is covered with silk cloth hand embroidered with gold thread. The work takes a year to do and the cloth is replaced each year. The holy place is in a narrow valley which forces the faithful to be close together as unity is power. The Kaaba comes out of a request from Allah to Adam to build Him 2 mosques one in Jerusalem, which took 70 years to build, and the Kaaba which has been destroyed 2 xs by floods. The rocks on which Abraham stood to build the Kaaba are there with his footprints etched in. In heaven there is a similar mosque visited by 70000 new angels each day. Mecca has always been a sanctuary town which includes a 20 mile area around the town.

Another holy site is where Abraham was told by Allah to take Haggar and his son, still a baby, Ishmael, and leave them in Mecca. Her food and milk ran out so she ran 7 xs back and forth between two hills looking for water. Allah told the angel Gabriel to hit the ground with his wing and water spurted out from the place between Ishmael’s feet. Haggar built a wall around the pool. This is the Zamzam well. Now the pilgrims drink of the water and complete seven trips back and forth between the two hills which are about 250m apart. They are within the ‘mosque at Mecca’ and the walkway is covered to help the pilgrims with this trial. The mosque has two levels as there are so many pilgrims.

Abraham later dreamt on three successive nights that he was to sacrifice his only son. So he talks to Ishmael to see if he too is willing to be submissive to God’s will. Ishmael tells his father to do what he has been commanded to do. Satan comes to Ishmael in the disguise of an old man, but Ishmael recognizes him and throws 7 pebbles at him. There is a column representing this at which each pilgrim will throw 7 stones. Satan goes to Abraham and Haggar to tempt them but each throw 7 pebbles at him and this is commemorated by the pilgrims at another site where there are other columns.

The Hajj can only be done in the 12th month though one can go to Mecca at any time. As there are so many pilgrims a quota has been established for each place – three million went last year.  If done correctly the pilgrim will become as pure as the day he was born. Adults of sound mind and body and financial means go in the 12th month between day 8 and day 12. The pilgrim must be desirous of repenting, have paid all their debts, have gained the money lawfully, seek a companion , and when saying goodbye to family and friends must have asked their forgiveness The pilgrim then dedicates his/her pilgrimage to Allah and focuses on Him. Each male wears two sheets and sandals and has a bare head. The women dress normally and must have bare hands and face. Each must be in a state of Ihram which begins at one of 5 places where they shower and change into the required clothing. Amr arrived in Miqat, but his group did their changing aboard the plane.

Day one he circled the Kaaba 7 times saying set prayers and ran between the hills 7 xs, threw 7 pebbles and prayed at the column and the stone with Abraham’s footprints and drank from the well. His group went to Mena that night which was 20 miles north. Day two they went to Mt Arafat, to the Namirah mosque for the sermon and performed many good deeds. It is a day to take stock and repent. Day three they went to another pilgrimage spot for prayers then they went to the temptation sites and cast their pebbles with appropriate prayers and paid someone to do their sacrifice. The meat was then distributed, their hair shortened and they changed back to regular clothes. They returned to Mecca. Day 4 they returned to Mena and redid the columns commemorating the temptations and threw the 7 pebbles, returned to Mecca and did the same set of observances which they had done on day one at the Kaaba. Day 5 they left for home.

Geraldine Manson, a Cultural Advisor for Snuneymuxw First Nations, was invited to will help us understand the importance of sacred places in the First Nation’s culture. Gabriola, being part of the Snuneymuxw traditional territory, has many sacred places. Unfortunately Geraldine was unable to attend the forum so John Gooding, Roger Kimmerly and Linda St. Clair presented a program Saturday afternoon.

John Gooding opened the afternoon session with a prayer.

Roger Kimmerly chose poetry that spoke of sacred places.  

Linda St Clair .stepped up and expanded the topic leading us to make a more personal connection to the idea of a pilgrimage

A committee prepared a lovely lunch for the 35 who attended this forum.

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