Some parents bring kids on long, religious journeyYousuf and Huzma Ahmed of Elgin
Sharmeen and Taufiq Ahmad began preparing their young sons for Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, months in advance. "We read Tell Me About Hajj and showed them the ‘Take Me to the Kaaba' video a couple of times so that they had an idea of what to expect," says Sharmeen of Elgin.
Each Muslim who is financially and physically able is expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once during his or her lifetime. Hajj occurs during the last month of the Islamic calendar and this year falls on Jan. 31. More than 2 million Muslims from across the globe, including an estimated 12,000 from America, will gather at the Kaaba, the house of worship built by Abraham and his son, Ishmael, centuries ago.
Children are not required to make Hajj before adolescence, but Hayat and Hassan Alqudsi of Wheaton chose to take their children. "Even though our children were born in the U.S., we wanted to take them back to their roots, to places where the Prophet Muhammad had been, so that their love for their faith grows," they explain.
From activity books and snacks to Children's Tylenol, parents go prepared for the long journey that begins with an 18-hour flight. "The best thing I bought was a hiking backpack in which my husband carried Yousuf. We each had ID wristbands, but in such dense crowds you cannot be too careful," says Sharmeen.
Parents who bring young children face more than the challenge of keeping an eye on their children. They also have to keep their children's minds on Islam.
"I didn't allow the kids to bring their Game Boys because it would be too distracting," says Hayat. "I got them I Spy books to keep them busy if we had to wait. The change in time zones and temperature-it was snowing in Chicago when we left-was a little hard, but thank God, they hardly complained. They were just so excited," she says.
Hajj is filled with ritual. For example, pilgrims run between two hills to symbolize Abraham's wife, Hagar, running in search of water for her thirsty baby-water that God provided.
Hajj ends with Eid-al-Adha, celebrated Feb. 1 this year. In this ritual celebration, Muslims are asked to share with the needy-specifically, to slaughter an animal and donate the meat. Most Muslims in the United States donate money online to a group that feeds the hungry, although some drive out to farms to slaughter an animal themselves and donate the meat to a food pantry. The ritual symbolizes God's command that Abraham sacrifice his oldest son, Ishmael. Convinced of Abraham's intentions to do his will, God spared the boy and allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead.