Fourteen Muslim pilgrims were trampled to death in this year's hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. An estimated 2 million Muslim pilgrims completed this year's annual hajj ritual. Every able Muslim is required to complete this journey to the Ka'aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once in his lifetime.
According to former Muslims Ergun and Emir Caner, this pilgrimage is one of the five main pillars of the Islamic faith. The first is called the Creed (Shahada). From a young child, the Muslim is taught daily to say two simple statements: "There is no god but Allah" and "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
However simple, these words form the foundation for all the teachings of Islam. By repeating them daily, the Muslim reaffirms his allegiance to Islam's strict monotheism and its founder and the Qur'an as the final and perfect revelation of Allah.
Another pillar is prayer (Salat). This "is not a
personal conversation between a human and God; rather, it is an external practice saturated with
formal procedures and required customs," observe the Caners in their book, Unveiling Islam. The prayers, if done properly, are ritual recitations in Arabic and carry more weight if done in a mosque with other Muslims.
The third pillar is almsgiving (Zakat). A minimum of 2.5% of net income is required for "cleansing." Some Suras in the Qur'an suggest that this duty is closely tied to eternal salvation.
Fourth is the Ramadan fast (Sawm). This is performed for about a month each year and requires that, from sunrise to sunset, the Muslim must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse. Only pregnant women, children, the sick and elderly are excused from this duty. "Yet, failure to participate without legitimate excuse is deemed an unpardonable sin with potential eternal effects," write the Caners.
Last is the pilgrimage (Hajj). For most, getting to Mecca is a difficult journey but once there, the ritual is even more arduous. The Caner's book describes this pilgrimage as "the climax of the Muslims' spiritual journey."
It involves marches around the Ka'aba, running between the two hills of Mecca, standing still for half a day, drinking from a well named Zamzam, animal sacrifices, and throwing stones at the Devil, plus other activities.
"The hajj, then, is the perfect illustration of what it takes to get to heaven: hard work, meditation and the mercy of Allah," write the Caners. "Such is the ultimate goal for all five pillars of Islam...a portrait of their task in life, a journey that they hope ends as it began - as a newborn baby free from all sins."
Unveiling Islam concludes with a chapter of very practical strategy in earning a hearing with the Muslim and leading him to Christ. Cultural issues are addressed that can sabotage the discussion from the start.
Pointers are given in helping the Muslim decide which book is God's word, the Bible or the Qur'an. The contrast between a distant and judgmental Allah and a loving, intimate and personal Jehovah speaks powerfully to the Muslim.
The gospel becomes compelling when he sees that he can trade the bondage of ritual for the freedom and forgiveness bought with God's grace through Christ's sacrifice. "The omnibenevolence of Christ on the cross and His transcendent love overwhelms the Muslim mind," says the Caners.