Appellate Judge Elizabeth Skipper would make this journey herself, but her Hello Kitty sheets just wouldn't fit in.
"This is something that America can learn from this situation, from this religious experience, that all of mankind can get along."
In this episode of Nightline, which aired April 18, 1997, we experience firsthand the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca required of all Muslims at least once in their lifetimes. Our guide for this journey is reporter Michael Wolfe. He is Muslim, as he must be because entry to Mecca is forbidden to non-Muslims, and he brings us along as he makes his second Hajj.
We join him as he fulfills the various obligations of the Hajj, including a five-mile trek into the desert to the Plain of Arafat, where Adam and Eve were reunited after leaving the Garden of Eden. As well, Wolfe and other pilgrims collect pebbles to be thrown at a pillar that represents the place where Satan tempted Abraham, who drove him off with stones.
The most compelling aspect of seeing the Hajj up close is not the ritual but the people who come together to perform it. They travel from around the world—we meet pilgrims from Nigeria, Islamabad, Indonesia, Morocco, Palestine, China, Japan, and the United States, among others—and clothe themselves in simple white sheets that serve the same purpose as school uniforms, to level the socioeconomic playing field. When they perform the obligations of the Hajj together, they are not Asian or Middle Eastern or European, they are not poor or rich, they are simply Muslim. Ignoring difference in favor of sameness is a goal we would all do well to aspire to.
This disc is completely bare bones, lacking even subtitles. The quality of the full-frame video is poor, and its Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is just above mediocre. Both the video and audio fulfill their purpose, though. For an episode of a news show, I wouldn't expect too much more.
At 22 minutes, this lesson in Islam cannot, of course, be comprehensive, but I think Nightline and Michael Wolfe offer a nice balance between historical background and personal experience. They teach us the basic premise of the Hajj—its purpose, genesis, and modern implications—but they also show us how it affects those who embark upon it. And this is where a news show has an advantage over a textbook or a newspaper story, and where a show lucky enough to employ a willing Muslim reporter has the ultimate advantage. I walked away from The Hajj with a slight understanding of the draw of and the need for such a religious experience, which is worlds more than I possessed before I watched it.
Despite its brevity, its lack of extras, and its middling transfers, I wholeheartedly recommend everyone rent The Hajj. Don't buy it, because you won't need to watch it more than once, but give it that once and expand your mind and increase your tolerance. You may find you have more in common with Michael Wolfe and his fellow pilgrims than you think.
Ruling against this episode of Nightline would be considered discrimination by any definition, so this judge will proclaim its innocence.
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