by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441)
By the time this opinion piece is uploaded on the crescent.icit-digital.net website, Hajj would be over (Eid al Adha was celebrated on Friday July 31). The pandemic forced the cancellation of Hajj for all Muslims except a handful from Saudi Arabia (1,000, according to the Saudi regime announcement).
Given the pandemic, travel, especially air travel, has virtually ground to a halt. In any case, the Saudis’ legendary incompetence would have messed up everything had any pilgrims arrived from outside. So, it is a blessing in disguise that Hajj was suspended except for a handful.
True, it has caused deep disappointment to millions of Muslims for whom Hajj is a once-in-a-life-time experience. Visiting the House of Allah is the most cherished dream of every Muslim. Hajj is the enactment of the Sunnah of not one but two great prophets of Allah, Ibrahim and Ismail (as).
It also retraces the desperate struggle of Hajar, the beloved mother of Ismail (as) to save her infant son who was dying of hunger and thirst after she ran out of her meagre provisions. Running between the hills of al-Safa and al-Marwa seven times (called Sa‘ee meaning, to seek help), Hajar hoped to find, perchance, a caravan so that she might get some water for her dying son. So moved was Allah by the struggle of a mother to save her infant son that her running between the two hills was made part of Umrah and Hajj rituals. In the noble Qur’an it is referred to as Shaa‘ir Allah (symbols of Allah—al-Qur’an 2:158).
The very human act of a mother, who was not a prophet, has been sanctified and elevated to the level of ibadah (our conformity and obedience to Allah). Except for the Prophets of Allah who acted under divine guidance, no other human being has been so honoured by Allah as has Hajar.
Two points emerge from this. First, the compassion of a mother to save human life—true that of her own son, but human life nonetheless—is recognized and greatly honoured by Allah. Second, her struggle symbolizes patience in adversity and complete trust in Allah. The ayah referring to al-Safa and al-Marwa as the symbols of Allah (2:158) follows immediately after the ayat enjoining patience in adversity and struggle in the way of Allah (2:153-157).
Regrettably, like other aspects of Hajj, Sa‘ee has also been emptied of its true meaning and spirit. Instead of reviving the spirit of saving human life, it has becoming a jostling match between people to get ahead. The more able-bodied muscle their way past the elderly and weak.
If the two million plus Muslims had been allowed to perform Hajj this year, would they have made the connection between Hajar’s struggle to save her infant son and that of countless mothers in Yemen, Palestine and Kashmir? The Saudi occupiers do not allow any such understanding to emerge. After all, they are directly responsible for the killing of some 100,000 people in Yemen and the starvation of more than one million children. At least 22 million of Yemen's 24 million people are food deficient, according to the World Health Program.
Based on these grim statistics, what right do the Saudis have to administer the affairs of Hajj? They are in violation of Allah’s commands at every level but especially pertaining to Hajj. What should be a journey to draw Muslims closer to the Creator and to each other is turned into a mad scramble to perform rituals devoid of all meaning and spirituality and then told to get lost.
Hajj reflects the state of the Ummah at each juncture in our history. Today, it has been reduced to a set of rituals for which the Bani Saud charge exorbitant prices. They have also instituted gross inequalities by offering different classes of Hajj: from very basic service to five-star hotels. Hajj is supposed to be a great leveller. The act of donning the ihram—the two pieces of unstitched cloth Muslims wear to perform Hajj—is meant to eliminate differences of class, status or authority. Yet the Bani Saud have instituted inequalities in the very act of ibadah that is supposed to obliterate them.
So, if the two million Muslims were unable to perform Hajj this year, they have not missed much. We must bear in mind that the noble messenger (pbuh) did not perform Hajj until it was cleansed of all idols. It is time to demolish the modern-day idols of crass materialism, class and other jahili distinctions that have polluted the environment of the Arabian Peninsula.
A good starting point would be to divest the Bani Saud from the affairs of Hajj. Concurrently, the blessed land should be renamed the Arabian Peninsula, as the noble messenger had done. Calling it ‘Saudi’ Arabia is shirk, an unforgivable sin in Islam and the greatest form of dhulm, as the noble Qur’an states (31:13). It is time to liberate Makkah, again.