Why politicising haj is disgraceful

There are certainly problems, such as issues with haj tourism companies exploiting pilgrims, but the Haj Ministry does attempt to curtail such abuses and takes these problems seriously.
Thursday 15/08/2019
Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque at the end of their Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 13, 2019. (Reuters)
Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque at the end of their Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 13, 2019. (Reuters)

The haj to Mecca is one of the most sacred experiences in a Muslim’s life and a religious obligation many faithful yearn to fulfil. Muslims see haj as an opportunity to spend time in reflection, devotion, worship and bettering oneself by observing ancient rites and celebrating the values they stand for.

It is, therefore, extremely sad and unfortunate that there are rogue voices in the Muslim community who use the pilgrimage to Mecca to attack Saudi Arabia because they disagree with Riyadh’s foreign and domestic policies.

Custodianship and guardianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, has been a sign of prestige for Muslim powers over almost a millennium and a half. Pilgrims who flock to these two cities have been cared for by various dynasties, from the Umayyads in the early days of Islamic rule to the Ottoman Empire until its downfall at the beginning of the 20th century.

Today’s custodians are Al Saud royal family of Saudi Arabia. They have been the guardians of the two holy cities for the better part of a century.

There are some who are not happy with that arrangement and seek to politicise haj. One of these critics is the Grand Mufti of Libya Sadiq al-Ghariani, who recently issued a religious edict encouraging Muslims to avoid haj and umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, because he said going to Saudi Arabia would help finance the “slaughter of Muslims.”

This is coming from a man who has publicly released videos praising groups connected with al-Qaeda, which, lest we forget, has killed many Muslims and non-Muslims in terrorist attacks around the world. But let’s not get caught up in that technicality.

What is interesting about Ghariani and other so-called Islamists is that they would not have said anything similar against Ottomans or any other former power despite there being some very dark chapters in the histories of those empires.

The reason is obvious -- they view those empires idealistically and say that they have been “truly Islamic.” Here, as matters stand, there is also doubt that they would have complained about the Umayyads ruling over Mecca and asked people not to participate in haj even after one of their commanders besieged and pillaged the holy city in the seventh century.

Others, such as the progressive leftists who are close to Iran, have called for the internationalisation of the administration of Mecca and Medina. They argue that Saudi Arabia is unfit to be the sole administrator of the holy cities because of a variety of political grievances they have with Riyadh.

While one can understand why political opponents and rivals continuously seek to find chinks in their opponent’s armour, it is distasteful that these opponents cannot bring themselves to say that Saudi Arabia has served pilgrims well, whatever their views on Riyadh's political stances.

The expansion to the Grand Mosque in Mecca has made it easier for pilgrims to move around safely, the Jamarat pillars where the ritual stoning of the devil takes place have been greatly expanded to avoid people dying in stampedes and officials from the Haj Ministry are continuously on hand to coordinate the process and monitor any developing situations.

All of these measures and more are very praiseworthy and should be acknowledged whatever political disagreements these people may have with Saudi Arabia

There are certainly problems, such as issues with haj tourism companies exploiting pilgrims, but the Haj Ministry does attempt to curtail such abuses and takes these problems seriously.

An international administration over Mecca and Medina would do nothing to curtail these difficulties and is simply an attempt to reduce the Saudi role and standing.

Calls to boycott haj and umrah are childish, petty and clearly motivated by the desire to score points against Saudi Arabia rather than look out for the best interests of Muslims worldwide.