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Shadia: Tip-top shape is a must for Islam's boot camp

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

October 29, 2012|By Mona Shadia

One of Islam's five pillars is Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

We also call it boot camp.

Islam's boot camp, which happened this week, is so challenging and rigorous that it would scare the toughest fitness instructor out there.

Yet an estimated 2 million to 6 million people from around the world are eager to be there each year, and millions more save up their entire lives to fulfill it.

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I say Hajj is boot camp because you don't just need to be prepared physically for the minimum-two-week journey. You need to be mentally and spiritually prepared. Like praying five times a day to stay connected to God and fasting during Ramadan to recharge your spirituality, Hajj is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to seek forgiveness and start anew with God.

You also must summon the patience and kindness in the world to deal with the humongous crowd, with being in a foreign country and culture, and all that comes with it.

It's not cheap, either. The average cost from the U.S. is about $6,000, and many can't afford that kind of money, especially people from poor nations.

In fact, boot camp comes with the condition that you are physically and financially able to make it.

My mom, Shadia, who is 49, did her boot camp in 2009.

Aside from arthritis, which runs in our family, I would say my mom is pretty healthy. Although I was so happy for her, I was deeply worried when she was over there, not only because I know it's a difficult journey for the healthiest of people, but because she's my mom and I wasn't with her, and I wanted to make sure she was going to be safe every single second she's was there.

When my mom returned, she recounted her experience, and while she loved it and described it as overall spiritually fulfilling and positive, she said that it was so difficult at times that there were days when she could no longer walk. She herself doesn't even know how she made it through. My mom said there were times when she would pray to God so hard to give her strength to take the next step and to help her fulfill her duties. (She made it through by the grace of God, she always says.)

It sounds so grueling and so trying, yet since she's been back, she can't stop thinking about going back.

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