In the past five years, Shaykh Hassan Lachheb led groups of American Muslims to Makkah twice a year for hajj and umrah.
For him, the journeys were a fulfillment of his life dream to perform hajj since he was a young child, looking at the photographs of his father in the airport as he left for hajj.
“Hajj is the fullest manifestation of what Islam is,” Lachheb, now president and co-founder of Tayseer Seminary in Knoxville, Tennessee, said, “in regard to spirituality, in regard to rituals, in regard to our connection to history and how deep our history is,” Religion News reported.
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It is a dream for every Muslim to travel to Makkah to perform the lifetime journey of Hajj. Towards this dream, they save cash for years and pray to make the journey.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic this year has directly interrupted these journeys, with Saudi Arabia closing the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah, cancelling Umrah, and finally announcing plans for a very limited hajj this year.
For Lachheb and millions of Muslims worldwide, seeing images of these deserted holy sites, particularly around the Kaabah, was a spiritual shock.
“When you see it completely empty, it is like our hearts are empty,” he said.
For American Muslim converts, the life-time journey for hajj is not merely a fulfillment of a sacred ritual.
“We represent about 1% of the population,” said James Jones, vice chair of the Islamic Seminary of America in Richardson, Texas, who embraced Islam in 1979 and went on pilgrimage in 1992.
“But there, everybody’s Muslim, and especially for the convert, that’s the first opportunity to be in a place where everybody’s Muslim.
“I don’t have to worry about what I’m eating, I don’t have to worry about offending anybody by saying, ‘assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you,'” Jones said. “There’s that sense of ease when you’re around Muslims. Everybody’s praying five times a day and nobody’s complaining about the call to prayer.”
In Islam, Allah judges people by their intentions. Therefore, Jones believes those who planned on making hajj this year will reap the same spiritual rewards as if they had gone.
For Lachheb of Tayseer Seminary, he tried to overcome the grief he felt for the absence of hajj to reflect on his connection to Allah as not merely limited to any physical place.
With the right intentions, he can still perform hajj internally.
“I have to find the Kaabah of my heart, I have to find the Makkah of my heart,” he said.