July 30 is the first day Eid al-Adha.
The Islamic holiday commemorates the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah and is a time of prayer, charity, and social connection.
The holiday also occurs during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The pilgrimage, or Hajj, is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. It’s a religious obligation any able Muslim should do at least once in their life.
It’s also a trip some spend years planning. But this year, due to COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has restricted the religious event to only a small number of locals.
That's left millions of Muslims around the world who had planned to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip in 2020 with uncertainty including Lansing doctor Mehboob Fatteh.
Fatteh has participated in Hajj, once before in the late 90s, but he wasn’t able to complete the full pilgrimage. A devastating fire roared through a tent city in the town of Mina killing hundreds of pilgrims on the first day of Hajj.
“We had to run, actually, we were lucky that we survived. We had taken a different route to get out or get away from the fire,” he said.
“We would have been dead because lots of people died there. But we, fortunately, by sheer luck and blessing of the God, we went in the right direction, and we survived.”
After the trip, he consulted religious scholars to see if he had met his obligation as a Muslim.
“They say that because you went there in ‘97, and your intent was to do Hajj. What happened was an accident, and God forgives you, and he grants you your Hajj.”
Even with their reassurance, he says the experience still left him with a void and sense of incompleteness.
“We finished the rest of the pilgrimage, but there was some concern in our hearts as to whether we should have, we should visit again,” he said. “And that's what we are trying to do this year."
Fatteh and his wife are now in their mid-70s. For two years, they’ve been putting away money and saving vacation time for this trip. They even bought a special travel package to make their accommodations more comfortable.
He remembers how he felt a few months ago when he realized they wouldn’t be able to go.
“For a week or so, we are kind of in a depression, but slowly came out of it, because it affected everybody. We are not the only ones who are affected, so we accepted.”
He says they won’t travel next year either because he still doesn’t think it will be safe to be on a plane or in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
“I'm going to give, observe that at least one year, so I won't do it next year. But here after that, it's open. It's not definite, but we'll consider that.”
Now it’s unclear when or if Fatteh will be able to fill that void he says is still in his heart, though he stills recalls how he felt when he went on his first pilgrimage
“There is something in Hajj, which is hard to describe. You get satisfaction, you get complete...as if nothing is happening in the world. You are just there, you and your God and people who are around you who are pure, who are your brothers.”
Muslims in Mecca this year began their pilgrimage on July 29 after days of quarantine. Each must wear a face mask, stay socially distant and travel within small, assigned groups.