by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 10, Rabi' al-Thani, 1443)
While the Muslim world is trapped in irrelevant fiqhi arguments, the Saudi regime continues with its arbitrary decisions regarding Hajj and Umrah. Its latest assault on pilgrims’ right to perform Umrah was announced by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah Pilgrims last month. It set an arbitrary age limit of 18 – 50 years for Umrah pilgrims. The pandemic has become its standard excuse for such decisions.
The arbitrary age restriction was somewhat modified by lifting the upper age limit of 50. The lower limit of 18 years is still in place.
Earlier this year, the Hajj numbers were also restricted to 60,000 (it was an improvement on last year’s limit of 1,000) but only people residing in the kingdom could perform Hajj. Muslims from the rest of the world were barred entry.
While the pandemic is real, Saudi decision-making is not. Here is why. Since the Saudi regime has stipulated that those wishing to perform Umrah must get vaccinated for COVID-19 with an approved vaccine, the new age restrictions make no sense. After all, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines and data show that properly vaccinated people are less likely to fall sick.
Besides, the virus does not discriminate between people’s age. Unvaccinated people are more likely to succumb to the effects of virus. Again, data from various countries confirms this. So, on what basis has the Saudi regime restricted people below the age of 18 to perform Umrah?
To be clear, both Hajj and Umrah are Qur’anically mandated obligations (3:97; 22:27). There is absolutely no stipulation of age. Younger people are likely to be healthier but there are other factors that also that come into play. Even in the Saudi-designated allowable age group, people could be suffering from other ailments. That will have an impact on their health.
Are we to believe that the 60,000 pilgrims from the kingdom that performed Hajj this year (in July-August), were all healthy? The Saudis are one of the most obese people in the world. They stuff themselves with so much food that they are unable to get up after their bellies are full. Who is unaware of Saudis with bulging bellies and enormous posteriors?
If such people are allowed to perform Hajj and Umrah, why impose restrictions on Muslims from the rest of the world who are used to a tough life? After all, the vaccine is already mandated.
The Saudi decision has little to do with health concerns and more to do with steering people into certain modes of social behavior. The Umrah restrictions were announced at a time when huge concerts are underway in Jeddah, the gateway for pilgrims and only 50 kms from Makkah. The concerts started on October 19 and will continue until March 2022.
These concerts are being attended by 250,000 or more people. There are no requirements for vaccination, nor is social distancing mandated. In fact, it is impossible to maintain social distancing at such events. The regime does not even want it. Men and women—completely unrelated to each other—are allowed to mix freely, gyrate to loud western music, all as part of the Saudi quest for ‘moderation’. Is this the only way to show moderation?
The regime could start with opening up the gates of prisons and set free the thousands of political prisoners. Some have died due to lack of medication as well as torture. If it truly wants to move toward moderation, it should open up political space for people. It will not happen because the Bani Saud clan wants to maintain a tight grip on the levers of power.
It would rather open up space and facilities for Israelis. Thousands of them have flooded into the kingdom despite no formal diplomatic relations with the Zionist entity. So, Muslims cannot perform Umrah or Hajj but Israelis can visit the kingdom as tourists!
On October 27, an El Al flight had landed in Riyadh, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post. A day earlier, a Saudi flight had landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. What is the meaning of such visits if not to formalize what is a de facto situation?
It is, however, the regime’s arbitrary restriction on pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah that should worry Muslims worldwide. After all, the two holy cities of Makkah and al-Madinah are not the private property of the Najdi Bedouins. They are illegal occupiers and squatters in the Hijaz. They should be divested from these holy places before they cause more damage. Already, under Bani Saud rule, most historical buildings have been destroyed to make room for steel and concrete monstrosities that have deformed the holy cities beyond recognition.
The Najdi Bedouins are also guilty of another crime: charging enormous fees for performing Hajj and Umrah. These acts of ibadat have been placed outside the range of the vast majority of Muslims. Hajj and Umrah are not only for the rich. Similarly, the imposition of a visa to perform Hajj also goes against the teachings of the Qur’an. It is bid‘ah. Since when do Muslims have to obtain permission of thieves and bandits to perform their religious obligations?
The real tragedy is that most Muslims are oblivious of what the Bani Saud are doing to the sacred places—Makkah and al-Madinah—and how the most fundamental ibadat of Islam are being distorted. The first point to note is that the Bani Saud were installed in power through British colonial intrigue. Today they are act as agents of imperialism and Zionism. In that sense, Makkah and al-Madinah are as much occupied by the imperialists and Zionists as is Masjid al Aqsa.
The Bani Saud must be divested of control of Makkah and al-Madinah and the affairs of Hajj and Umrah. This responsibility should be handed over to muttaqi ulama representing all schools of thought in Islam, and technically competent Muslims. The Bani Saud should be banished to Najd from where they first erupted in 1774. Better still, they should be banished altogether. They are a pestilence and a disease. The only way to deal with a disease is to eradicate it.