For Bronx Muslims, financial struggle precedes spiritual journey
Reported on Nov. 3, 2009
Around 40 Muslims from five mosques in the Bronx will make the pilgrimage to Mecca as a group in mid-November, in an attempt to lower travel and accommodation costs and allow more people to afford the trip.
“It’s even cheaper this year,” said Abdul Muhaimin Ladan, one of the imam’s assistants at Mount Hope Masjid, a mosque in the southwest of the borough.
Ladan, 42, will supervise the pilgrimage with Mousa Wage, an imam from Highbridge. He said that while the Mount Hope mosque has 400 members, only 12 of them will join the 40-member group traveling to Saudi Arabia for the hajj.
There, they will perform century-old rites like walking seven times around the Kaaba, a shrine covered in a black cloth, located in Mecca, one of the three spiritual capitals of Islam along with Jerusalem and Medina. The Saudi Embassy Web site stated on Nov. 3 that around 250,000 pilgrims had already reached Mecca. Around four million of them are expected from all over the world. The Bronx delegation will gather Muslims from Highbridge, White Plains, and from one mosque in Chicago – headed by Ladan’s cousin.
Ladan said he and Wage will offer three packages this year with the cheapest one costing $4,000, whereas last year the same basic trip would have cost up to $4,500. The price covers the flight, transportation, food and special pilgrimage clothes for the three-week stay.
It is difficult to find a hajj for less than $4,000 on the Internet, and one California organizer even offered a $12,000 package. Ladan explained that the closer the hotel is to Mecca, the higher the cost. This means that the pilgrims who pay the least have to travel the most every day. Ladan was able to offer a cheaper package this year by booking a hotel further away from the center of Mecca.
For Hajie Tunkara, a member of the Islamic Cultural Center in the South Bronx, who already made the pilgrimage in 2006 and plans to join the group this year, the journey is worth it. Tunkara said he convinced the imam of Highbridge to organize the hajj with Ladan, who studied Islam and used to work as a tour organizer in Saudi Arabia.
“I told him that it is better to go with Abdul,” said Tunkara, 37. “He’s been doing the hajj for the past eight years.”
He added that during the hajj, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. Issah Lamin Yusif, 33, a Quran teacher at Mount Hope mosque, said that the last time he went to Mecca, he spent hours locating his tent among thousands of settlements.
“I would not let my wife go alone,” said Yusif.
Fortunately, while the pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, attendance is not required. One thirty-four-year-old woman from the Mount Hope mosque, Hawa Jagana, is not planning to make the trip this year because she cannot afford it. Instead, she is saving about $100 a week to do the trip next year.
“You go if you have the money,” she said.