Day 22: A Hijra of Faith
Series: 30 Days of Prayer for Muslims and Christians – 2016 Ramadan
Presented in American Sign Language, no voice interpretation.
The migration of millions of Muslims and Christians from particularly Syria and Iraq represents one of the most important events of the first part of the 21st century. Due to the Syrian civil war now in its fifth year, over four million refugees have sought safety in surrounding countries of the region as well as in the West. Two million have left Iraq, with another 1.9 million internally displaced inside the country.
This intentional leaving of physical homelands parallels similar journeys that have happened in all three Semitic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abraham leaving his homeland of Ur in Mesopotamia, Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, and Jesus as a baby being taken by his parents to Egypt to flee Herod are some of the many times of movement in Jewish and Christian history.
In Islam, there is also the concept of a journey of faith captured in the Arabic word hijra. Literally meaning “migration” or “journey,” the idea of hijra traces back to the Prophet Muhammad’s flight with believing companions from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. The hijra was due to persecution from the Meccan merchant establishment, and resulted in the consolidation of the first community of Muslims. It also became the beginning year for the marking of Islamic history, with dates written thereafter AH (After Hijra).
A similar concept in Islam is actually one of the five pillars, the hajj. Meaning “pilgrimage,” this refers to the obligatory journey of a Muslim (with some exceptions) during their lifetime to the holy city of Mecca. The two concepts of hijra and hajj, though similar, also have subtle differences. Both are done in faith, both involve leaving the homeland for an intentional purpose. But in the hijra is implied a longer migration, perhaps one that will last the rest of a person’s life on earth.
The Prophet and companions did return victoriously to Mecca in 630 AD after eight years in Medina. For many refugees who have left homelands, there is no promise of ever returning. How many of them see their migration as a hijra central to their faith? This is of course uncertain, but living with the reality of a spiritual dimension could bring encouragement to their struggle.
Millions of migrants from the Middle East as well as North Africa have left their homelands for several reasons. One is to escape persecution and another is to convert people to Islam. Sometimes, this involve an intent to commit terrorist activities. Regardless of their motives, millions of migrants who have permanently relocated in other parts of the world are “true hijras.”
Egyptian Muslim writer Sahar El-Nadi has defined a “true hijra” as someone living out five important areas.
First, they have a strong faith that even in great suffering continues to trust and depend on Allah.
Second, there is knowledge that there is purpose in this journey and that it is not meaningless.
Third, the “true hijra” continues to engage in regular habits and acts of worship even in their new homeland.
Fourth, there is a continued desire for Allah that is not overwhelmed by societal pressures.
Fifth, there is a commitment to a righteous life in the new environment.
Those five marks of a “true hijra” are certainly consistent with one following Judaism or the Christian faith. 1) Strong faith. 2) Purpose for journey. 3) Spiritual disciplines and worship. 4) Continued desire for God in midst of society. 5) Commitment to righteous living.
For all three faiths the concept of a hijra or journey that will last a lifetime and indeed into eternity is a commonly held reality. The idea of a “true hijra” provides another relational bridge between faiths so needed in this 21st-century context.