Saudi Arabia (MNN) – Every year about two million pilgrims embark on the Hajj, a journey to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia. Yet in the wake of COVID-19 this practice, mandatory for all Muslims once in their lifetime, is being severely restricted. Tom Doyle with Uncharted Ministries says this change could open up opportunities for Muslims to hear the Gospel.
A Religious Mandate
For Christians the idea of mandatory travel for worship is foreign. Jesus’s resurrection and the indwelling Holy Spirit for all believers means that worship can happen anywhere. However, Islam is tied strongly to land in the Middle East.
Doyle gives some background on the journey. “The Hajj is one of the five key pillars of the faith of Islam. So Hajj is required of all Muslims to do this at least once in their life. [They] journey to the city of Mecca, which for Muslims is the holiest city. Mecca would be number one, because that’s where Muhammad, they consider the Prophet, was born. And then Medina would be number two. So that’s called the Hajj and to go to both of those places, Mecca and Medina, you’re in the area called Hejaz. That’s the special holy place for all Muslims and they’re required to go there.”
Every year Muslims from around the globe travel to the area during a specific time and walk the well-worn route of the Hajj en masse. This year the Hajj will occur from the evening of Tuesday, July 28 through the evening of Sunday, August 2. For many who planned to make the once in a lifetime journey this year with millions of others of their faith, Saudi Arabia just slammed the doors shut. Only those residing within Saudi Arabia are able to make the trek this year. And presumably, there will be other restrictions in place that will change the experience.
Doyle says, “This year for people that do not have a permit that just try to get into Saudi Arabia from other countries, that try to get there without an official government permit (perhaps some workers that live there from another country, expatriates that live in Saudi Arabia), they will be fined. And it’s a steep fine. It’s 10,000 Riyals, which is about $2600-$2700.”
What Does This Mean?
For many Muslims, in addition to general frustrations and disappointments with COVID-19, now there is sincere religious disappointment. For those who are there, the journey will be different than it has been in the past. For those unable to make the pilgrimage, there is frustration.
However, this change offers an opening for Christ. Doyle says, “They’re going to be thinking about their religion, they’re going to be thinking about the veracity of Muhammad’s words and all of that, but as we know this is the time where Muslims are questioning their faith. This is the crack. This is the opening. And Christians need to be praying for Muslims during this time to meet Jesus as Savior through the internet, through a Bible that somehow gets into their hands, through a dream or a vision that introduces them to Jesus, and they want to know more.”
The Truth is Spreading
God is working in Saudi Arabia. Although the country severely restricts freedom of religion and frequently violates human rights mandates, the Gospel is spreading. People are coming to know the hope of the true God. Doyle says that he recently spoke with a believer in Saudi Arabia who grew up Muslim and now worships Jesus.
“She was thankful. The underground church there are praying for Muslims to come to the light of Christ. And so she was saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening around the world. We are thankful for this. And we’re just praying that Jesus gets a hold of their hearts during this time of void for them in their religion.’”
Click here to listen to and join in this believer’s prayer for her nation.
Join Saudi Believers in Prayer
Saudi Arabia is far away. For many Christians, identifying with Muslims’ sense of loss with the restrictions of this year’s Hajj is difficult. Yet God is near to the broken-hearted and is ready and waiting to bring Muslims into His light.
Doyle encourages Christians to seek out their Muslim neighbors and friends and ask them about how they are handling the changes with this year’s Hajj. He wants them to listen and encourages real relationships. He suggests watching and talking through the videos on ifoundthetruth.com together.
“So that’s what I would do engage in a conversation,” Doyle says. “I would say pointed to some dynamic videos of former Muslims that love Jesus now, let them grapple with that a lot.”
During the Hajj this year, pray for the truth of Jesus Christ to invade Muslim homes and lives.
Learn more about Uncharted Ministries here.
Header photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English on Flickr https://bit.ly/30Ez0vb