I am a Muslim. I revere the same Allah as my Christian mother and my Jewish father. Allah is simply the Arabic word for the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. I find the absence of priests and rabbis attractive. Islam means acknowledging the Oneness of Allah, surrendering to it, cooperating with the way things are. Being a Muslim, Allah is as near as the veins in my neck. During the Hajj each year, millions of faithful come to Makkah. The men and women wear simple lengths of unstitched cloth. The garments are a symbol. The person who wears them agrees not to harm plants and animals or fellow pilgrims. No arguments, no violence. We agree to keep the peace. The garments are a great leveler too. Who can tell rich from poor? Millions Descend on Makkah Here I join people from all over the earth, all these human beings drawn together by the call of an idea, by the oneness of Allah. We have left daily life behind and come to a place hardly belonging to this world, a place filled by the almost tangible presence of Allah. To preserve its sanctity and protect pilgrims, the sacred territory around Makkah is forbidden to all but Muslims. It lies hidden in the mountains of Saudi Arabia 50 miles from the Red Sea, a modern city of 1.2 million people. To walk around the block in Makkah is to walk around the world. I step out the door and for 15 yards, I’m in Indonesia. Down the street past a couple of stores and it’s Africa. Pakistan is just around the corner and then I’m in Bangladesh. A vast majority of the world’s one billion Muslims—80 percent—now live outside the Middle East. There are more than five million in the United States.

Muslims Perform Sacred Duties:

The duties of the Hajj are symbolic of the story and obligations of Islam. Before prayer, Muslims wash, representing ritual purity. The walk around the Kabah—the black stone block in the great mosque—is an expression of our desire to put Allah at the center of our lives. Pilgrims also make a journey to Mina and to the plain of Arafat, 13 miles outside of Makkah. Making our way on foot, we trade city streets and buildings for tents and carpets on the sand of the barren plain, giving up our usual comforts, getting back to basics. On the plain of Arafat, we perform the central obligation of the pilgrimage, to be here together from noon until sunset. There is no ceremony. We stroll, we pray, we meditate. The Hajj goes on inside the hearts and thoughts of each of us. This is a rehearsal for that Day of Judgment. How will we account for our acts? Have I injured anyone? Have I been grateful enough for the simple gifts of life, water, food, friends, family and the air I breath? Before leaving Makkah, we visit the Kabah one last time. For most of us, this will be our last glimpse of the shrine. There is an old proverb—before you visit Makkah, it beckons you. When you leave it behind, it calls you forever.