Hajj Unites Iraqis
— Divided by political and sectarian differences back home in what many categorize as a civil war, Iraqi Sunni and Shiite pilgrims are united in raising their hands with one prayer for long-wished peace and stability in their war-torn country.
"What a pity. We need to pray for Iraq, you must pray with us for our homeland," 45-year-old Ruqaya told Reuters on Tuesday, December 26, with her eyes welling up with tears.
On their way to the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, Ruqaya and her husband Jabbar Abu Tariq said they would be praying for dozens of relatives, neighbors and friends killed since the US-led invasion.
"We are Muslims," white-clad Abu Tariq said when asked whether he was a Shiite or a Sunni.
Iraqis have been caught up in a bloody spiral of violence, battered by bombs and stalked by death squads.
A recent UN report showed that the civilian death climbed day in and day out, blaming the soaring toll largely on sectarian violence.
UN and Iraqi medical sources estimate that more than a 100 people die every day in the sectarian conflict.
But now in the blessed journey of hajj, there is no place for hate or fear between the Iraqi faithful.
Kadhim Manwar Al-Adhari, 52, has no worries about meeting fellow Iraqis of other sects in the five-day rituals of hajj.
"I'm from Amara, where both Shiites and Sunnis live," al-Adhari said. "Sunnis are married to Shiites and vice versa."
Nearly two million Muslim pilgrims from across the world will ascend Mount `Arafat, the climax of hajj, on Friday, December 29.
One of the five pillars of Islam, hajj consists of several ceremonies meant to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim -- who can financially afford the trip -- must perform hajj once in their lifetime.
With tears streaming down their faces, many of the Iraqi faithful invoked Allah for a soon withdrawal of the occupation troops.
"We pray for the Americans to leave," said Zohra Um Mohammed, who made her journey to Islam's holiest sites through dangerous roads in her hometown of Babel.
"They are the ones who have torn us apart," said the 54-year old accountant.
The US invaded the oil-rich Arab country in 2003, without a UN mandate, on claims of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.
The allegation was refuted by a later US presidential report which said the administration made the case for war despite intelligence doubts and strong voices of dissent.
For many white–clad Iraqi believers, the soul-searching hajj journey is a time to reflect.
"We have suffered so much grief that Satan plays with the minds of some of us and gets them to start questioning the most important thing in life, faith in Allah," said Abu Tariq, a retired public servant.
"That is why we came here, to renew our faith in Allah, to pray for the deceased, and to pray for peace and stability for Iraqis."