There’s a famous story in Islam about Hajj. The main character in the story is a cobbler, ironically from Damascus. This cobbler collected money for years to go to Hajj, but at the end he could not go, because he gave all the money to a neighbor whose family was starving to death. Morale of the story is that the cobbler’s Hajj is accepted, while the Hajj of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, who actually make the trip to Mecca is not.
This past week close to 2.5 million Muslims went to Mecca to undertake Hajj pilgrimage. In average every Muslim spent around $5000 on this trip. At the end of the week Muslims all around the world cut close to 100 million animals in celebration of the “Eid al-Adha” or the Feast of Sacrifice. If you take the cost of every animal at a minimal $150, it would sum up to $15 billion. In rough estimates Muslims spent close to $27,5 billions to follow their religious rituals during the week.
Meanwhile, there are close to 12 million Syrian citizens, who have been forced out of their houses: 7,6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and 4,2 million fled to neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Libya. Today, there are almost 2 million Syrians based in refugee camps in Turkey and every fifth person in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. There are hundreds of thousands more citizens in Syria, who are selling their last possessions to move to a safer country.
Unfortunately, there were no popular humanitarian campaigns within the Muslim community to donate any of the money spent for religious rituals towards the Syrian refugees. Currently UNHCR is underfunded by 2,7 billion dollars to provide for the necessities of the Syrian refugees. What if half a million pilgrims instead of going to Hajj, donated their $5000 to build shelters for Syrian refugees? If you think about it, such generosity might have even saved the lives of 717 pilgrims who died in the stampede on 24 September 2015.
After all, in every religious text there is so much room for interpretation and it’s left to the morality of humans to make the right choice. Neither Hajj nor sacrificing an animal can be an end in itself, but these rituals can only be means for fulfillment. Independent of your religion, ethnicity or race, I believe helping a neighbor should grant a bigger sense of fulfillment. Like for that cobbler from Damascus…
If you’d like to make a donation for Syrian refugees, you may use the UN Refugee Agency web-page: http://donate.unhcr.org/international/syria