International (MNN) — Every year, millions of Muslims descend on the city of Mecca for a holy pilgrimage. The trip, known as the Hajj, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a crucial part of Muslim culture.
But thanks to efforts to combat COVID-19’s spread, the Hajj is going to look much different this year. According to Perry LaHaie of Frontiers, “Last year 2.5 million people went on the hike to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but this year because of the pandemic, there are only going to be about 1000 people at this Hajj in Mecca.”
Primarily by blocking airports and international travel, Saudi Arabia is trying to keep numbers down as much as possible. So this year on July 28, one of the smallest groups in the history of the Hajj will visit Mecca on their once-in-a-lifetime journey.
It’s a devastating blow to many Muslims who have prepared their entire lives for this trip. It emphasizes the uncertainty LaHaie says is a regular part of Islam.
“There is this underlying current of fatalism that doesn’t make promises,” he says. “If you’ve performed really well in your life and done a lot of good things, you’re still aren’t sure if you’re going to make it into heaven.”
And with the Hajj off the table, some Muslims have started asking difficult questions. LaHaie hopes Christians can step in with the answers.
“It’s a great time to just be praying to just ramp up our prayers, because I’m sure that Muslims are feeling disillusioned. They’re feeling a lack of hope,” he says.
But nothing provides hope like the promise of eternity through Jesus Christ. LaHaie recalls the story of Ali, an alcoholic who abused his family. He hated himself for his lack of control, and so he turned to Islam. Determined to follow the tenets of Islam to the letter, he made his pilgrimage to Mecca and begged Allah to help him become a better person.
According to Lahaie, on Ali’s first night in Mecca, Jesus appeared to Ali in a dream saying “You belong to me.” He woke up, and once again heard Jesus’ voice: “You belong to me. Leave this place.”
Ali returned to his family and begged their forgiveness. His family and neighbors were skeptical at first, but as time passed his transformation continued. Now, he and his wife pastor a church in Turkey and regularly share their testimony on social media.
That’s why we need to pray. Pray that Jesus would work through organizations like Frontiers, compassionate believers who still want to continue ministry, and even dreams and visions to show Muslims what Christ’s love looks like firsthand.
“We have the promises of God underneath us to show us… that our prayers will be effective,” LaHaie says. “When the world seems to be shut down, I would just say take one step of faith. Go to frontiersusa.org and reach out to us. Ask us how we can help you move from where you’re at to a place in the Muslim world that needs the Gospel, and I know God will accomplish that desire in your heart.”
Typically, Mecca is flooded with Muslim pilgrims. That won’t be the case this year. Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.