For Muslims, hajj is a calling from God
Muslim pilgrims walk outside the holy mosque in Mecca during hajj in 2006. One of the pillars of Islam, Hajj is a pilgrimage all Muslims are expected to make during their lifetime, if they can.
Muslim pilgrims are seen in Mina during Hajj in 2006. One of the pillars of Islam, hajj is a pilgrimage all Muslims are expected to make during their lifetime, if they can.
Zahid Khan gets his head shaved after completing hajj in 2006. Hajj is a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the pillars of Islam.
Muslims from Washington State pose for a group photo during hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
But faith took on a deeper meaning after he completed hajj in 2006.
Khan, 31, is the principal of Sunday school at Masjid Umar al-Farooq, a Sunni congregation in Mountlake Terrace. He joined his mother, two sisters and a group of Muslims from all over the country on a trip to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
He reflects on that journey to this day.
One of the five pillars of Islam, hajj is a pilgrimage all Muslims are obligated to make in their lifetime, unless they are ill or can't afford the expense.
"It really brings religion full circle," Khan said. "People come back totally changed from the way they were before. It's a spiritual transformation."
The pilgrimage lasts from the eighth to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, Khan said. This year, hajj was in the first week of November.
On the most important day of the hajj, pilgrims go to Mount Arafat, Khan said. They stand near the hill where the Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon, praying and reciting the Quran. This rite is known as Wuquf and is considered the highlight of the hajj. Pilgrims must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset.
About 2 million pilgrims from all over the world descend on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia each year to perform the pilgrimage, Khan said. Like most people, he traveled with a registered organization that obtained visas and arranged accommodations.
The airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh has a special arrival terminal for pilgrims, divided by country. It's a powerful sight.
"I met people from China, Tasmania, Russia. Muslims from places you can't even imagine," he said. "It was amazing to see us all following the same religion and living the same values."
Khan lives in Shoreline and works as a finance analyst for Boeing. His family came here from Pakistan when he was a baby. Visiting the places where the Prophet Mohammed walked and prayed gave a new purpose to his faith.
The spiritual transformation didn't come right away, Khan said.
"It took time for all this to simmer and cook inside me," he said.
On that journey, he met pilgrims who made really big sacrifices to perform the hajj. A man from Bangladesh told Khan he had to sell of all his land to come to Mecca. Other pilgrims slept on the street and subsisted on bread and water.
If a pilgrim's hajj is accepted by God, all their sins are washed away and they are given a fresh start. Khan became more focused in his prayers and motivated to be a better person.
"When you go to Mecca, it's like God is calling you. It's such an honor," he said.