by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 7, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1436)
An estimated two million Muslims from all over the world will perform the annual pilgrimage of Hajj this year. The most challenging of all the ‘ibadat, the Muslims’ ordeal begins before they set foot in Makkah. Allah (swt) says in the noble Qur’an, “Pilgrimage to Allah’s House is a duty unto mankind, for those who have the means [physical and financial] to undertake the journey” (3:97). This determination is left to the individual Muslim, not to those who today happen to occupy the Haramayn — the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Yet, the current occupiers, the Saudis, insist only those Muslims can perform Hajj to whom they issue a visa. In the Qur’an Allah (swt) says to the noble Messenger (pbuh) to openly proclaim the invitation to all the people to perform Hajj (22:27).
Many Islamic movement activists are unable to perform this fundamental Islamic duty because the Saudis refuse them a visa. Likewise, the Saudi-imposed quota-system — limiting the number of pilgrims to 1% of each country’s population ostensibly because of lack of space and facilities — deprives millions of Muslims the opportunity to perform Hajj. There are at least 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Based on the Saudi quota-system, a Muslim must live to 1,600 years before he/she can get a Hajj visa. These rules are mega-bid‘ahs; both disqualify the Saudis from administering the Haramayn.
To the natural challenges of Hajj — hijrah from one’s home after a long journey (although modern travel has made this easy), and the harsh environment of Makkah, Mina, ‘Arafat and Muzdalifah — are added man-made problems. These include the legendary Saudi incompetence compounded by their arrogance. Even these would be tolerable were it not for the obscene prices they charge Muslims wishing to fulfill one of their Islamic obligations. Hajj has been priced out of the range of most Muslims today so that the greedy Saudi “royals” can gouge the pilgrims.
There are other problems with the Saudi administration of Hajj. They have reduced it to a matter of days when Allah (swt) says, “Hajj is in the well-known months” (2:197). Hajj is a great leveler of distinctions. Every pilgrim is required to don two pieces of unstitched cloth obliterating all distinctions of class and wealth. Yet under Saudi control, it has been turned into a five-star experience. Instead of being the annual assembly of the Ummah where Muslims would gather to discuss the burning issues confronting them — and there are many — they are forced into segregation based on nationality. Even worse, pilgrims are told they can perform virtually all their salahs inside their air-conditioned five-star hotels where sound is piped in from the Haram. They do not have to go and mingle with the downtrodden that struggle on the floor of the Haram. How can the Saudis get away with such crimes?
There are even more serious issues involved that the Saudis have imposed in the performance of Hajj. Allah (swt) has made clear in Surah al-Tawbah (also known as al-Bara’ah) what Muslims should do during Hajj. Allah (swt) commands Muslims to proclaim complete dissociation from the mushriks (9:1–3). Because Hajj, like every aspect of din, has been reduced to ritual, many Muslims are completely unaware of this divine command. Nor is any attempt made in most Muslim countries ruled by secular Muslims to draw attention to it. It is easy to see why: proclaiming dissociation would immediately lead to the question of who the present-day mushriks are. The US, Britain, France, Russia, Israel, India et al. — all of whom happen to be the kissing cousins of the Saudi racketeers who have turned the Hajj into a carnival — stand out as the worst enemies of Allah (swt), the Prophet (pbuh), Islam and the Muslims. As they say, (mushrik) birds of a feather flock together.
Muslims are brutalized almost everywhere. Yet not only does the Saudi regime forbid demonstrations to proclaim dissociation from the mushriks, their court ‘ulama refuse to discuss any of the burning issues of the day in their khutbahs in al-Masjid al-Haram or in Masjid Namirah (‘Arafat) on the day of Hajj. Is the Muslim Ummah satisfied with its present condition? Are there no killings of Muslims going on in places like Syria, Kashmir, Palestine or Yemen, this last at hands of the Saudis? Why are the cries of Muslim women and children not answered from the plains of ‘Arafat? Why are Muslims not allowed to plead their case before Allah (swt) in His House? Who decides what Muslims should or should not do or discuss during Hajj? By what authority do the Saudis prevent Muslims from seeking Allah’s (swt) help?
The Qur’an says that Muslims should seek benefits from Hajj (22:28). Will the Muslims of Palestine, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Kashmir, or Yemen benefit from Hajj? The occasion is deliberately wasted because the people who have seized the Haramayn and the enabling “Muslim” regimes insist on reducing every aspect of the din to rituals. The Saudis did not occupy the Haramayn by chance; there is a long and sordid history behind it. The British set out to plant them in the Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the last century to serve their colonial interests. The Americans have maintained them in power since, not out of love but to gouge their wealth by selling them useless weapons.
The question, however, is: what should the Muslim Ummah do? The first point is to develop a better understanding of the present reality. The Saudis may nominally be ruling the Arabian Peninsula but in reality, it is under American and Zionist occupation. Unless Muslims fully comprehend this harsh reality, they will not be able to take the next step, which is to struggle to liberate the Haramayn. The Muslims present condition allows for no other alternative. The Zionist occupation of al-Quds and the Muslims’ inability to liberate it should offer a sobering thought.