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Published on 04 November, 2011

Muslim pilgrims gather in Saudi Arabia for Hajj

International
(MNN) — An estimated 2.5 million visitors are descending on Mecca, Saudi
Arabia today.

Fouad Masri with Crescent Project says it's the beginning of Hajj.
"Hajj literally means 'to visit' or 'to come back.' It's a pilgrimage.
It's a ritual that Muslims have to do once in a lifetime, for those who are
able."

The 2011 pilgrimage takes place November 4-9. It is
a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and is the largest
gathering of people in the world. Masri
explains, "In Hajj, you are going
there to show God that you've performed exactly the rituals, exactly as the
imam says, and then you hope that God saves you from your sins."

The
pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam and is laden with tradition. The practice
can be traced back to Abraham. Millions
of pilgrims walk from Mecca to Mina to the Plain of Arafat to stand near the
Mount of Mercy and ask Allah for forgiveness. Pilgrims then walk back to Mina
to throw pebbles at pillars that represent the temptations of Satan.

The
symbolic animal slaughter of Eid al Adha is followed by a trip back to Mecca for
a visit to the most sacred site in Islam. Pilgrims drink from a holy stream before
returning to Medina to finish the journey.

While millions are participating, not all understand the purpose
of the rituals. Masri notes that "the
Hajj becomes a ritual to satisfy the need for salvation from their sin. That's
where it distracts them from getting to know about Jesus." 

It's a great opportunity for Christians to ask questions,
especially after al Adha. "They'll
tell you the story then say, 'You know, the son of Abraham was redeemed, was
released.' They'll tell you 'Yes.' Then we'll come in and  say, 'That's how we are released from our sin,
because now Jesus is our redeemer. He's our Savior.'"

This can bridge  an introduction
of Christ, especially in light of the upheaval during the Arab Spring. Muslims have taken a sometimes deadly stand
against long-standing governments. They
desire new freedoms and peace. "Every time you have a Muslim in your
circle of influence, create a friendly environment where there's trust, where there's
respect, where your Muslim friend feels comfortable asking questions. Then when you use the tools, they're exciting
because you use them in a way to keep the discussion on Jesus and the
Bible."

Masri acknowledges that it
can be intimidating for Christians to share their faith with Muslims, but there
is no better time to start learning how to do it. That's why they have resources available like
the Oasis Conference, training DVDs, and books. "The
core discussion is how to build bridges to understanding who Christ is and that
the Bible is trustworthy."  

As doors open throughout the Middle East and North Africa, however
briefly, believers should be ready with answers to the spiritual questions introduced
by Hajj. Click here to learn more about Crescent
Project Resources
.

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