Ramadan will end this weekend at sundown on Saturday evening and through the devotionals that we’ve been posting over the past few weeks, hopefully, you have learned a little more about some of the practices and beliefs of Islam. So far, we’ve considered fasting, testimony, almsgiving and prayer. The final Pillar of Islam for our consideration today is Hajj; a pilgrimage to Mecca that is expected of all Muslims at least once in their lifetime. The term “Hajj” refers to the last month of the Islamic calendar and this year, the pilgrimage is due to take place at the end of July.

With over 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, it is estimated that on any given year there are normally around 2 million pilgrims who complete the Hajj. Mecca is such an important location to Muslims, as it is seen as the birthplace of Muhammad and where the first revelation of the Quran was received. In the centre of the Great Mosque of Mecca stands the Kabba, the Arabic word for "cube". As the name suggests, it is a large cube-like structure made of black granite and pilgrims must walk around it seven times in an anticlockwise direction as part of their Hajj devotions.

On return to their home country, Muslims who have made the Hajj pilgrimage are often given honour and respect as those who have reached new heights of religious devotion.

Saudi officials are faced with a dilemma this year as the prospect of 2 million visitors gathering in one location is impossible to manage under coronavirus restrictions of social isolation. There is a strong likelihood that the Hajj, like many other large world events, will be cancelled this year and if that happens it will be the first time since 1798.

As Christians, we have no such significant geographical locations. Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in John 4 divert our attention away from potential holy sites, emphasising the truth that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”. This truth has come home to us all the more in recent days, as social distancing restrictions have pretty much brought the country to a standstill. With places of worship being temporarily closed and Christians unable to gather as normal, isn’t it reassuring to know that we can still worship God in spirit and truth without having to leave our homes?

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