Hajj and Rosh Hashanah: A Time for Introspection, Reflection, and Rejuvenation Through Our Religious Rituals

By Ameena Jandali, Content Director.

This opinion appeared at the ING blog.

This year two important religious holidays coincide, with the season for both beginning this week: the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah, the month in the Islamic calendar when Hajj takes place begins tonight after sunset, and Rosh Hashanah began on Sunday, September 13th at sunset. Hajj is the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca which is obligatory on every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able to perform it. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, which according to Jewish tradition represents the day when Adam was created. The first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah and Rosh Hashanah both represent a time for renewal, reflection, and change in a positive sense. They also present an opportunity for increased ritual worship.

Both traditions reflect the importance of introspection at an individual level, and ritual practice at the individual and communal level. In our modern age of fast-paced lives and thinking, taking the time to engage in these rituals and age-old practices can be both challenging and grounding, creating a tension between the pull of our daily lives and the grounding of ancient rituals that may appear out of place in our modern world. It is that submission, first to God who in both faiths is the goal of these rituals and devotion, and secondly to the traditions which may seem out of step with modernity, which can inspire a true sense of being part of a tradition and history that is larger than ourselves. In an age when everything we do needs to make sense or be self-serving, it can be liberating to walk in the footsteps of those before us as we continue traditions that began with people who were greater and wiser than we will ever be.

Muslims who are not performing hajj are encouraged to fast during the first nine days of the month, and in particular on the ninth day which is known as the Day of Arafah. According to a Prophetic saying, “Fasting on the Day of ‘Arafah absolves the sins for two years: the previous year and the coming year.”   Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection during which Jews reflect upon both their achievements and failings in the last year, share meals with others, and repent for sins at their synagogue.

Both periods culminate in important holy days and holidays this month; for pilgrims at hajj, the Day of Arafat on September 23rd is a day of supplication, repentance and devotion, while for non-pilgrims it is a day of fasting. The Feast of the Sacrifice, known in Arabic as Eid al-Adha will be celebrated on September 24 with special congregational prayers, new clothes, money and gifts for children, and celebrations collectively and as a family over the next few days. In commemoration of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Ismail, who God miraculously replaced with a lamb, Muslims will sacrifice a goat, lamb, or cow and share the meat with friends, relatives, and the needy, while keeping a third for themselves. The traditional greeting for this holiday is Eid Mubarak or Blessed Eid!

Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur which begins at sundown on September 22nd this year, and is a day of atonement, fasting, and prayer at the synagogue. The days in between the two holidays are called the Days of Awe and are a time for introspection before Yom Kippur. Together, the holidays are called High Holy Days. “Shanah tovah,” is the common greeting meaning a good year!

For all those embarking upon this special time, particularly those performing their hajj, we wish you all a season of reflection, repentance, and rejuvenation.