Haj pilgrims call for building bridges with other faiths

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arafatBy Siraj Wahab

Arab News

MAKKAH, October 17 — A Pakistani-American pilgrim here says Muslims should build bridges with other faiths to counter the growing misperception of Islam.

Jamil Waqar, a 62-year-old from New York City, who works as a pharmacist and runs a real estate business, said the recent acts of terror carried out by so-called Muslims have tarnished Islam.

Waqar is one of 2,000 pilgrims from the United States and Canada performing the Haj this year with nearly 1.6 million other pilgrims from across the globe.

Some of the pilgrims are reverts who recently embraced Islam. When Arab News approached some for interviews at their camp in Mina on Tuesday, they politely refused saying they were in a state of ihram. “Sorry,” said one of who was referred to by his fellow pilgrims as Patrick. He was heading to Makkah with his group to perform tawaf (circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba).

In another section of the tent for Americans and Canadians, religious scholars delivered speeches on how to lead life after Haj. Women pilgrims were also present.

“If you ask me, non-Muslims have become afraid of Islam, and the number of people that have embraced Islam have gone down,” he said. “Here in Mina and at Arafat, I prayed to Allah to show us the right direction and to help us wash away this stain of terrorism,” said Waqar.

When he arrived in New York 35 years ago there were not many mosques, he said. “Now you can find mosques in all neighborhoods; the mosques are full of people, especially young people, which is quite heartening.”
Waqar said it was wrong for Muslims to berate non-Muslims all the time.

“My son, Shaan, is studying at Albany Medical College, and since he always eats halal food, his non-Muslim friends make it a point to only go to halal-food restaurants,” he said. “Are they not better than us? And here we are passing strictures against them all the time.” He said Muslims need to be tolerant of other faiths. “Unless and until we appreciate them, we will not be able to bridge this gap between us and them,” he said. “We need to exercise moderation rather than condemning non-Muslims.”

He said events taking place in the Muslim world was harming the pristine image of Islam and Muslims. “If we are going to blow up schools, then what do we expect other people to think of us? Now is the time for introspection, and now is the time for good people to stand up and be counted.”

He praised the Saudi government and leadership for the excellent Haj arrangements and helping to ensure pilgrims can perform their Haj rituals in comfort.

“They deserve our gratitude.”a

Waqar said he was here for the first time and “was very happy.” He did not find the Haj very difficult. “I was expecting hardships, but everything went well for me; it was very easy,” he said. He said it was a great feeling to be here. “You get to know people from other parts of the world,” he said. “It’s good to share and care, which is what the Haj is all about.”

Waqar said their tour operator made good arrangements. “Nearly 2,000 pilgrims have come with this group from the United States and Canada,” he said. “I paid for the high-end package that cost me $14,000. The lowest package was $10,000.”

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