Millions of Muslims from all over the world are currently gathered in Mecca for the Hajj, a pilgrimage that must be made by every Muslim who is financially and physically able at least once in their lifetime. However, this year’s Hajj follows a tumultuous series of uprisings throughout Africa and Southwest Asia, and even the very pious have little patience left with Saudi Arabia’s management of this holy journey.
Saudi Arabia is not well-liked generally (what with their un-Islamic institutionalization of denying women basic rights, generously taking in deposed dictators, and their unabashed partnership with the United States on all matters ‘anti-terrorism’) but every year millions of pilgrims grit their teeth and endure the Saudi bureaucracy in order to fulfill one of the primary tenants of Islam. King Abdullah has already bought off his own citizens (and banned protesting) in order to prevent a Bahrain-style revolt, but can the kingdom continue to depend on the Ka’ba to stifle the misgivings and mistreatment of its annual visitors?
Each year, Saudi Arabia limits the number of people who are allowed to make the pilgrimage – for example, only 3,000 of the 7,500 South Africans who sought visas this year were provided one. While crowd control is a valid issue, prevention of ‘political outbursts’ is also a high priority. In late October, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh, stated, “Allah did not intend haj to be a place for dispute, haggling… or using it for political agendas or preaching grim sectarianism.” However, as Asma Alsharif’s report for Reuters points out, “In 1987 clashes between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi security forces led to the deaths of hundreds of people” and to this day, “Saudi religious police patrol the holy cities to ensure pilgrims are worshipping in the manner prescribed by the Gulf monarchy’s strict interpretation of Islam.”
Furthermore, wealthy Gulf residents receive extreme privileges as compared to the majority of their fellow pilgrims. A far cry from the ideal of ultimate brotherhood and human dignity, the ‘Mecca Metro‘ designed to expedite travelers through the pilgrimage and prevent crowded conditions was initially available only to Gulf pilgrims. Saudi-owned companies sprinkled throughout the world make millions of dollars on the backs of Muslims who are willing and able to wait years to make their Hajj. Needless to say, when Muslims without such financial stability do make it to Jeddah to begin their journey, traveling by foot, sleeping wherever there’s free space on the ground, and going without food or water is their reality. All this occurs in a nation that perpetuates horrific human rights abuses against their own citizens and workers – especially migrant women.
Social justice is an essential component of Islam, whether you rely on the prophet Muhammad’s declaration that “all mankind is the progeny of Adam and Adam was fashioned out of clay” or Malcolm X’s transformative experience on his own Hajj. If we are occupying cities to protest economic, racial and social injustice and we are ousting dictators who allowed our nations to be re-colonized by corporations and foreign militaries, Muslims must also stand up to the Kingdom of Saud. Xenophobia, racism, patriarchal violence and the protection of obscene wealth and power have no place in these ongoing struggles for justice, and regardless of the Grand Mufti’s sentiments, the Hajj is supposed to represent the ultimate struggle for human dignity in every Muslim’s lifetime. Remember this as you distribute your alms of meat to the poor this Eid al Adha.