Hajj: Million Muslims make their way to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage

Mecca pilgrimage Hajj

Muslim pilgrims performing the Hajj. Photo by Fadi El Binni, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET THURSDAY, JULY 7 through the evening of JULY 12:  Close to 1 million Muslim pilgrims have been pouring into Mecca from across the globe, preparing for a journey most have anticipated their entire lives: Today begins the annual pilgrimage that is Hajj. Arriving via every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe, this annual Islamic pilgrimage is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

To complete one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims must visit Mecca and fulfill the Hajj rituals that reenact the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage,” in 632 AD.

Hajj between hills

Muslim pilgrims travel the circuit of between the two hills of Hajj, through an area put in place for health and security reasons. Photo by Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Flickr

NEWS UPDATES: In 2019, Saudi Arabia allowed approximately 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims to participate in Hajj; during the past two years, only a few thousand were permitted. This year, approximately 1 million pilgrims will be permitted to perform the Hajj. With increasing numbers of pilgrims permitted, however, health restrictions will be in place: Hajj participation will only be allowed for those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus; can prove that they have tested negative for coronavirus; and who are under the age of 65. (Read more in the Aljazeera and from the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.)

Yet as Hajj 2022 draws close, many pilgrims from Western nations are experiencing additional obstacles, resulting in difficulties booking (or re-booking) the trip due to the sudden implementation of Motawif, a Saudi Arabian government-authorized online portal. Announced last month, the use of Motawif requires all Western pilgrims to book hotels, airfare and special visas solely through the portal, in efforts to gather more streamlined booking information and cut down on fraud. However, with system glitches and delays being experienced by many, news reports are covering the frustration and anxiety that pilgrims are speaking out about. (Read stories in the Washington Post, Middle East Eye, the BBC and the Guardian.)

Still, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdul Fattah Mashat reported that Hajj, as well as Umrah—a shorter pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year—are major components of the Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to boost the religious tourism sector and host 30 million Umrah pilgrims annually by 2030. (Read more in The National.) According to reports, Motawif—though it may have glitches in its initial run, this year—is an important component that will go toward making Vision 2030 a reality.


The Hajj pilgrimage is regarded as a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime—if that person has the mental, physical and financial ability to make the long journey. Despite the word “duty,” Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca actually stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Islamic prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj in the seventh century. The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah (God).


Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, food and water quickly ran out; Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba, and today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

Mount Arafat, Hajj

Mount Arafat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jahiliyyah: During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.


Before the start of Hajj, pilgrims bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent at the entry station. The first ritual of Hajj is performed inside the Grand Mosque complex: pilgrims circle the Kaaba structure seven times, counterclockwise, reciting prayers (tawaf). Following tawaf, many drink from the Zamzam well. Next, Muslim pilgrims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did (al-Sai). Another statement of intent is made, after which the faithful travel through Mina, and on to the plains of Mount Arafat.

Intense prayer for forgiveness is offered at Arafat, as Muhammad said, “Far more people are freed from the Hellfire on the Day of Arafat than on any other day.” This portion of the Hajj journey is one of the most important. Small stones are gathered, and the following day, pilgrims perform a symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina (rami).

Fourth of July: Americans celebrate Independence day with parades, barbecues and fireworks

July 4 fireworks over city

Fourth of July fireworks in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Steve Wall, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JULY 4: After two years of social-distance Independence Day celebrations, festivities appear to be ramping up this year, with crowds expected to line streets for patriotic parades; the scent of barbecue drawing family and friends; and, finally, fireworks lighting up the night sky, on this, the Fourth of July—the National Day of the United States of America.

Did you know? Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

Girl with flag, July 4th

Photo by JillWellington, courtesy of Pixabay


With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence.

In June 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. A total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4 by the Second Continental Congress. On July 5, 1776, official copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed. (Learn more from History.com.)

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day. Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.


A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. For facts about the Declaration and more, visit USA.gov.


Nothing sets the stage for a summer party like the occasion of the Fourth of July! Dig up those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation.

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, and Real Simple. HGTV offers last-minute snack ideas.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips.

Or, stay indoors with a lineup of patriotic movies—Forbes offers a top-10 list of movies, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Johnny Tremain,” “Live Free or Die Hard” and “The Patriot.”

Juneteenth: America honors Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, ‘second Independence Day’

Juneteenth flag with red, black, green

Photo by wynpnt, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, JUNE 19: Street fairs, ceremonies, gospel concerts and prayer services take place across the nation today in celebration of the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

Black-and-white photo, Juneteenth band

A band performing in Texas for Emancipation Day, in 1900. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

June doesn’t mark the Emancipation Proclamation itself; instead, this holiday recalls the date, more than two years later, when slaves in Texas were finally freed and former Confederates were forced to recognize the Proclamation.

News: Juneteenth officially became recognized as a federal holiday last year, on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.


Though slaves had been freed more than two years earlier, under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the deep South had felt minimum impact.With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Northern forces became strong enough to overcome resistance in the South.

On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation. And on June 19, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No.3.” The Order read, in part:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Juneteenth dancing

Photo by USAG- Humphreys, courtesy of Flickr

In reaction to the news, men and women who had been enslaved danced in the streets. Some immediately left their former masters in search of freedom or to find family members. The next year, freedmen organized the first annual “Juneteenth” celebrations in Texas, using public parks, church grounds and newly purchased land for the jubilant parties.

Did you know? Juneteenth is a linguistic portmanteau, meaning that it is a blend of words. It fuses “June” and “Nineteenth.”

Major institutions such as the Smithsonian and Henry Ford Museum have begun sponsoring Juneteenth activities, as have cities across the United States. In many areas, portions of General Order Number 3 are read, and celebrations often include both singing and public readings of the writings of noted African-American writers.


Looking for more?

Learn the history of Juneteenth from the Library of Congress and PBS.

Find recipes fit for the day at Parade, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Betty Crocker.

Father’s Day, June 19: Have you ever heard (or said), ‘I’m only a father!’

Benjamin Pratt with his own father, the Little League coach in the upper right corner. Little Benjamin is sitting second from his right. (If you’d care to read Benjamin’s earlier column about his own father and their mutual love for baseball, click here.)


EDITOR’S NOTEAmerican Father’s Day began in Spokane, Washington, in 1910, because Sonora Smart Dodd was moved by a Mother’s Day sermon in church to approach her pastor about similarly honoring fathers. Her own was a Civil War veteran and single father who raised six children. Despite support by trade groups and the Father’s Day Council, Father’s Day was rejected by both the general public and Congress until 1966. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972Each year, our online magazine salutes Father’s Day—this year through this inspiring story by Benjamin Pratt, author of Guide for Caregivers.


‘I’m only a father!’


Contributing Columnist

Benjamin Pratt today with his wife Judith.

When our younger daughter graduated from college with a degree in interior design she was hired by Pottery Barn to help design and setup stores across our country.

When she wasn’t traveling to other cities, she would spend a day or two at stores in the mid-Atlantic region working on redesign.

One morning she left in her little car before 6 am for Baltimore. About five miles from her destination, on a busy interstate, the car broke down. She called me, frantic and scared, as the 18 wheelers sped by, shaking her and her little car.

“Dad, I’m going to be late for work. I can’t get the car to start. What can I do? I need your help!”

“I’m only a father,” I gently retorted. “You will have to call a local garage or towing company.”

An hour later I got a call that she was at work. The mechanic had come, made a minor adjustment, and she was on her way.

In her humorous way, with the panic over, she told the story to all her colleagues at work. They teased her for weeks with one line from the conversation, “I’m only a father.” For all the young people at the store, that became a great line, one that broke their hope for invincible, all powerful parents.

“I’m only a father,” has become one of those touchstones in our family lore. It is raised and shared in our family gatherings.

It also is often reframed by me as I acknowledge my limitations.

“I’m only a caregiver.”

“I’m only a husband.”

“I’m only a minister.”

“I’m only human.”

The irony is that, the more I acknowledge my power and limitations, the more I discover my capacity to be present and available to others. As I shed the demands of perfection, I often experience the genuine good gifts I am capable of sharing.

Trinity Sunday, Pentecost: Christians celebrate the Holy Spirit and three persons of God

Holy Trinity stained glass Sunday

An interpretation of the Holy Trinity in stained glass. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 12: A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday is observed by both Eastern and Western Christians today, calling to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—plays in Christianity. In the Western Christian church, white banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity, one week following the Pentecost holiday; in the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the same day as the Sunday of Pentecost.

Did you know? Some Christians may be surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.


On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

Yale historian David Blight helps us to remember: ‘African Americans invented Memorial Day’

EVEN AS Gen. Robert E. Lee was surrendering at Appomattox on April 9, 1865: Recently freed Black residents of Charleston, South Carolina, risked their lives to publicly prepare for the first Decoration or Memorial Day by digging up a mass grave of Union soldiers left by the defeated Confederate army. These Black volunteers then prepared proper graves for each of those more than 250 Union soldiers who died due to starvation and disease in a Confederate prison camp inside a local horse-race course. This photograph (above) was taken while the new graves were being prepared. Later, those Black volunteers built a decorative fence around the new cemetery, including an archway proclaiming this hallowed ground dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.” On May 1, 1865, these Black families held a parade of more than 10,000 people to this site to memorialize the dead with flowers, preaching, readings from the Bible and hymns—followed by family picnics. (Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

‘This was the first Memorial Day.’


AND NOW MONDAY, MAY 30—Given the racial trauma that continues to roil our American landscape, we believe it is important to cover Pulitzer-Prize-winning Yale historian David Blight‘s ongoing campaign to correct our history books and give credit to newly freed African Americans for establishing our post-Civil War tradition known to us now as Memorial Day.

“African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865,” Blight says in a lecture, an excerpt of which you can view below via YouTube. “There are cities in the United States North and South that claim to be the site of the first Memorial Day, but they were in 1866—they were too late. (As a researcher,) I had the great blind good fortune to discover this story in a messy totally disorganized collection of veterans papers at a library at Harvard some years back.”

Blight continues, “What you have there is Charleston in 1865 is African Americans, recently freed from slavery, announcing to the world with their flowers and their feet and their songs what the war had been about: What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a second American Revolution. That story got lost for more than a century.”

One of Blight’s early steps in his campaign to correct our history books was an OpEd essay in The New York Times, which now has become an oft-quoted summary of these events. The essay says, in part:

For the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. … Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events … took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. .. The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freed people, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

Blight also has written about this milestone on his own website, including this passage:

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice.

As a result of Blight’s campaign, now, the public historical record is changing. The widely used HISTORY channel website, for example, posted this in 2019 and updated it in May 2022:

His efforts have expanded over the years to include historical reflections on the way this annual observance reflects the meaning of American freedom and diversity in other parts of the U.S. In 2017, Blight was invited to write for The Atlantic magazine. He chose to focus this Atlantic story on memorial traditions in New Orleans, headlined:

Over the years, as a result of Blight’s work, various new historical markers have been posted in Charleston.

SECURING THE HISTORY IN CHARLESTON—For more than a century, Confederate sympathizers in South Carolina actively suppressed the history of the ground-breaking 1865 event—despite the fact that it was covered by newspapers at the time and was documented in at least a few photographs held by the Library of Congress. The Confederate sympathizers were so effective in their efforts that this crucial American memory was effectively erased for more than a century. Today, permanent memorial markers are a public record of the event. (Click on the photograph to enlarge it for easier reading.)


Care to hear Yale’s Dr. David Blight tell the story?

The video quality of the following YouTube clip is not ideal, but the audio is clear. In this seven-minute summary, Dr. David Blight mentions other related events held in Charleston, including a gathering at Fort Sumpter. The Library of Congress also holds original photographs taken at the April 14, 1865, Fort Sumpter memorial, including this photograph and also this photograph that originally were printed for viewing in a stereopticon.






Ascension of the Lord (Ascension of Jesus): Christians observe ancient feast

Stained-glass, Ascension of Jesus

A stained-glass image of the Ascension of Jesus. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 26: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. On this date—or, as some Roman Catholic churches will hold services on the Sunday following, along with some regional Ecclesiastical provinces—Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

Did you know? In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of the Lord is ranked as a solemnity and is a Holy Day of Obligation; in the Anglican Communion, Ascension Day is a Principal Feast.


On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop.

Note: In the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ takes place on June 2, in accordance with 40 days after Pascha (Easter).