LAST January 2004, I performed the Hajj or pilgrimage. It was also my first time to travel abroad.
After performing the Hajj, I have been travelling to different countries in Asia, Europe, and America.
Hajj literally means, “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.”
It is the last of the five pillars of Islam (the others include a declaration of faith in one God, five daily prayers, offering regular charity, and fasting during the month of Ramadan).
Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.
The Hajj is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the great prophets and teachers of faith. But my recent trip abroad is a different kind of hajj.
In travelling, I always remember what St. Agustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
I guess this saying simply means that if you never go anywhere, you’ll have a very limited view of the world.
Every time I travel, I consider it as pilgrimage to meet people, learn new things, and widen my world view.
As I write this article, I am in Detroit, Michigan for the final few week leg of my activity in the US (United States of America).
I am in the US for few weeks to attend trainings and meeting up with different universities in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This trip is a special program entitled Community Service and Civic Engagement among university students.
This activity was organized by the Office of International Visitors. This office is under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Embassy.
The Bureau fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through international educational, professional and cultural exchanges.
In Washington, D.C., I met with Mr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ph.D., Professor, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University.
Dr. Nasr is a professor of Islamic studies, philosopher, and author. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an undergraduate degree in Physics and Mathematics. He went on to Harvard University where he studied Geology and Geophysics, and then completed a PhD in the History of Science and Philosophy. He is a world renowned scholar on Islam living in the US. He has published over twenty books and hundreds of articles in numerous languages and translations.
Dr. Nasr speaks and writes based on subjects such as philosophy, religion, spirituality, music, art, architecture, science, literature, civilization dialogues, and the natural environment.
His book, Islam in the Modern Word: challenged by the west, threatened by fundamentalism, keeping faith with tradition, is a classic study of the changes in the Islamic world. He also wrote two books of poetry (namely Poems of the Way and The Pilgrimage of Life and the Wisdom of Rumi).
In my conversation with him, I asked him, “What are the challenges that our Umma [Muslim world) are facing today?”
Dr. Nasr told me, “Fifty years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Man and Nature [The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man). In this book, I stressed the importance of a greater awareness of the origins of both the human being and nature as a means of righting the imbalance that exists in our deepest selves and in our environment.”
According to Dr. Nasr, mankind has been too dependent on technology.
Mankind sees nature as a commodity and not a sacred creation from the Supreme Being.
He added, because of this, mankind neglected and exploited nature and we see now the problems that affect our environment.
As I reflect in the message of Dr. Nasr, I realized that the problem of the Umma is not the problem of the Muslims alone.
It is in fact the problem of the whole humanity.
Dr. Nasr also told me, “Look at Mecca and the Masgit El Haram. The Saudis are building the place like New York City.”
He is correct in saying the even in our Holy place, it becomes too materialistic.
Mecca is surrounded by buildings and shops that somehow takes away the sacredness of the Kaaba.
It was a short meeting with Dr. Nasr. But I learned a lot from him. I get inspired with his values and principles that are universal in nature.
He encouraged me to continue my work as a student of Islam. I hope someday I can invite him in Ateneo de Davao University to deliver a talk or a lecture on recent developments of the Muslims role in the present time.
In Washington, D.C., I also visited Georgetown University. This university is a private research university founded in 1789. It is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher education in the United States. It is located in Washington’s historic Georgetown neighbourhood.
In this university, I met Imam Yahya Hendi.
Imam Hendi is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. He was the United States’ first full-time Muslim chaplain based at a university.
Imam Hendi was born in Nablus, studied Islamic theology in Jordan. He also studied Christianity, Judaism, and Hebrew in the United States for his doctorate. He was one of the Muslim leaders who met with the President of the United States in the aftermath of September 11 tragedy.
Imam Hendi’s work aside from being the Imam is to give student retreat and recollections to Muslim students who want to participate in these activities.
These two activities are similar to my work in Ateneo de Davao University. We do our best to make our Muslim students become good Muslims with good character. He also shared to me his experiences on inter religious and intra religious dialogue which plays an important role in the diverse community in the US.
The trip in Washington D.C. was meaningful for me. I learned a lot and it added a new chapter in my life. Like a book, it widened my horizons and views about Islam and the Muslims all around the world.