It took three generations for Muhammad Shoib to make it to Mecca.
"My grandparents had that dream. My parents had that dream, and I had that dream for a long, long time," Mr. Shoib, of Sylvania, said. "And my dream is going to come true."
Mr. Shoib and his wife, Huma, are among the roughly 2 million Muslims who are this year performing the hajj, a pilgrimage that is one of the pillars of the faith and that carries deep emotional and spiritual significance for those who complete it. Its dates change each year, in line with the Islamic lunar calendar; its conclusion always coincides with Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, the second of two major holidays that this year begins on Sunday.
Several local mosques are holding services and celebrations for Eid al-Adha in Toledo on Sunday. They include the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, where Imam Ahmad Deeb is set to deliver the Eid Khutbah. It will be his first as the mosque's new imam.
All Muslims who are physically and financially able to complete the hajj are supposed to do so at least once in their lives, although, as Mr. Shoib can attest, there are many elements that must come together in order for a pilgrim to begin making plans: Agency-arranged travel packages are cost-prohibitive for many (the Shoibs are paying $18,000 total), as was the case for his parents and grandparents. A person's health should be considered, too, given the physical demands of the pilgrimage. And Mr. Shoib and his wife had their children to consider; they're leaving their youngest, 10, in good hands.
That's not to mention the spiritual:
"You don't go there without an invitation, meaning that you will go there when God wants you to be there," Mr. Shoib said. "We think that this is the time when God wants us to be there."
His experience underscores a tension inherent in a movement that has picked up attention this year, encouraging pilgrims to boycott the hajj as a means of protest against Saudi Arabia, where hajjis must travel to visit the holy sites of Mecca. The largely organic movement, which has seen some momentum build on social media as #BoycottHajj, essentially argues that pilgrims should keep their money out of the coffers of a country that is drawing condemnation for human rights abuses.
Mr. Shoib echoed others locally in saying that he hasn't seen the push to boycott the hajj gain any traction in and around Toledo. In the deeply spiritual perspective he and others bring to the hajj, which they describe as independent of politics and outside the framework of traditional tourism, a boycott doesn't feel appropriate.
"These are religious rituals. They're not political," Professor Ovamir Anjum, the Imam Khattab Endowed Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Toledo, said. "And the hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. So to politicize it this way is something that gives many people pause."
"It's not that people aren't aware of it," Mr. Shoib said, referring to the politics of Saudi Arabia. "Everyone is very well informed about what is going on and everybody has a political view or opinion. It's not that they are oblivious to what is going on. I have no doubt about that."
"However this topic [of a boycott] hasn't come up for more than 30 seconds, somebody mentioning it casually," he said. "Everybody is in that same frame of mind."
The rituals of the hajj re-enact and commemorate the sacrifices of Ibrahim, Hagar and Ishmael, as described in the Quran, Professor Anjum said. Eid al-Adha, too, recalls the patriarch's willingness to sacrifice even his own son to God. Hajjis circle the Kaaba, considered the holiest site in Islam, in Mecca; they also journey to Arafat and to Mina.
In addition to being a mandate for those who are able to complete it, the hajj carries intense spiritual weight for pilgrims. Mr. Shoib describes it as a life-changing experience, an opportunity to commit oneself anew to living a life aligned with God.
"When a pilgrim comes out of the hajj, he is a baby coming out of the womb of the mother," he said. "It's a fresh start, it's a new life. It's up to you how you want to live that new life."
He said he was particularly looking forward to travel to Arafat, outside of Mecca, where it's said that a hajji is as close as imaginable to God.
"This is probably one of the most emotional places of this whole hajj, where you feel that you are in front of God, and God is talking to you, or listening to you at least," he said before leaving on pilgrimage. "I'm getting goosebumps imagining that I will be one of those who will be there."
This year's boycott talk is not the first instance in which politics have crept into the hajj, said Professor Anjum, who pointed to long-running tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia that have manifested in pressure or propaganda surrounding the holy sites. This year's talk stands out in that it appears to reach a wider base than just Iranians or just Shias, he said, although he hasn't necessarily seen particularly large or influential countries backing the boycott.
It reflects a widespread alarm with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, under whose leadership and influence human rights abuses perpetrated by the country have drawn condemnation. High-profile examples include Saudi Arabia's role in the Yemeni Civil War, which a report last year estimated had led to the death by starvation of 85,000 children under 5 years old, and, as a particularly rallying cry this year, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.
"Most people who feel deeply religious, they would completely agree that Mohammad bin Salman is a disaster ... that is certainly a concern," Professor Anjum suggested. "But they would say that hajj is not something that you can politicize. That it should be left out of these things."
There's also the question of whether a boycott would even send a message: While the hajj and the umrah, a lesser pilgrimage that can be completed any time of the year, are expected to top $150 billion in revenues in 2022, pilgrimage accounts for a pretty minimal percentage of the oil-rich nation's gross domestic product. Pilgrimage is estimated at just 7 percent.
While pilgrims have little choice but to spend some money in the country during the pilgrimage, Mr. Shoib and Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan of the Islamic Society of Northwest Ohio said they don't view their stays through the lens of tourism; Dr. Hasan said sight-seeing isn't typical.
"People go straight from the airport to the sanctuaries, and then they go back to the airports," he said. It's part of the reason that they see the pilgrimage as independent of the country's politics.
Mr. Shoib, for his part, said if he were considering a trip to Saudi Arabia for any purpose other the hajj, the politics "might be a factor on my mind," he said. "But not during the hajj."
"This trip is between a Muslim and God," he said.