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Fewer Pilgrims arrive this year at Hajj: Slowdown Hits Saudi Businesses

Those who are still coming have less to spend, said Ali al-Hirabi, who hawks gleaming gold necklaces and rings from a shop in the holy city

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FILE - Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 11, 2016. VOA
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Saudi businesses catering to hajj visitor have taken a hit this year as far fewer pilgrims arrive and those who come have less cash to spend.

Saudi authorities say only about 1.86 million pilgrims, including around 1.3 million coming from outside the country, are attending this year’s hajj, down from peak figures that approached 3 million a few years ago.

The number of visitors from abroad has fallen by around 20 percent and the number from within Saudi Arabia has fallen by half, said Marwan Abbas Shaaban, head of the kingdom’s National Committee for Hajj and Umrah. Overall, hajj-related business was down by half, he said.

Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Wikimedia

Every Muslim who is able and has the means is expected to travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia during the annual hajj month at least once in a lifetime. Muslims also visit the holy city at other times of the year for pilgrimages known as umrah.

Those who are still coming have less to spend, said Ali al-Hirabi, who hawks gleaming gold necklaces and rings from a shop in the holy city.

“They come, but their situation isn’t like it was when there was peace in the world,” he said. “It’s the Arab countries that are the problem.”

Saudi Arabia itself and many of its Arab neighbors are suffering from the fall in global oil prices that has cut state budgets, lowered wages and reduced lavish domestic spending. War across the Middle East has also hit the hajj.

Officials give a variety of reasons for the declining visitor numbers. One of the most obvious is a boycott by Iran, which barred its citizens from attending this year’s hajj after diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia collapsed following the Saudi execution of a Shi’ite cleric.

Efforts to find a way for Iranians to come faltered over Tehran’s accusations that Riyadh was to blame for poor safety at last year’s hajj, when at least 2,070 people died in a crush.

Saudi Arabia says safety has improved over the years and accuses Iran of polticizing the rite with its criticism.

Shabaan said Iranians typically made up 7 percent of foreign hajj visitors, and their absence did not account for the bulk of the fall-off in numbers.

He said another factor was the construction under way in Mecca itself, which is designed to increase its capacity to accept hajj pilgrims in future, but means there is less room while the building is still under way.

“Over the last three years there has been a reduction in the number of pilgrims because of the expansion of the Two Holy Mosques and the massive infrastructure improvements,” he said, also citing “political conditions in some countries and economic conditions.”

Wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, which have brought down numbers in past years as well, have worsened this year.

Most Syrians and Yemenis now live in territory controlled by warring sides opposed by Saudi Arabia, making it difficult to get visas.

Renovations

Mecca’s mayor Osama bin Fadl Al-Bar played down the lull.

“There is certainly an effect on economic sectors, but the private sector is always looking toward the light at the end of the tunnel and the investment opportunities that are present.”

He said the renovations to expand Mecca’s Grand Mosque and nearby hotels, which have turned the area into a tangle of cranes, would drive future business and let the city accommodate 3.7 million hajj pilgrims in 2020 and 6.7 million by 2042.

As part of a reform plan to wean Saudi Arabia off its dependency on oil, the government aims to encourage even more visits to Mecca outside of hajj season, raising annual pilgrim numbers to 30 million by 2030 from 8 million at present.

Some architectural and cultural critics have lamented the changes to Mecca’s landscape from the development projects, which include high-rises and a 76-story clocktower.

Meanwhile, despite the smaller crowds, merchants in Mecca do not seem to be lowering their prices. The high cost of basic goods, especially near the Grand Mosque, is a perennial complaint for pilgrims.

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Senior Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdullah Bin Sulaiman al-Manea told Okaz newspaper businesses should not gouge customers, and criticized the spread of billboards in the city: “The duty of hajj should not become a venue for trade, profit and gain.”

Fatima al-Murabit, a Moroccan who together with her husband was visiting for the second year in a row, said prices had gone up since last year.

“Even dates are expensive, and bad manners are a general feature of traders and workers in the markets,” she lamented.

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“There is exploitation of the ignorant. I hope that gets changed in the future. People come for the Prophet’s Mosque and the Kaaba, but there’s some exploitation and a lack of oversight.” (VOA)

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  • Manthra koliyer

    This arrival of few pilgrims could be because of the stampede that occured last year.

Next Story

Rampant Sexual Harassment of Children & Women in Islam

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place

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MUSLIM MAN
How safe are Muslim women? Wikimedia

Gaurav Tyagi

  • Sexual harassment of women and children is a serious problem in Pakistan
  • Kidnapping of girl child is also very common
  • It is not only a problem in Pakistan but in all countries where Islam prevails

Khaled Ahmed a senior Pakistani journalist and the consulting editor of ‘Newsweek Pakistan’ stated that raping and killing of children is a serious problem in Pakistan.

According to him three incidents were reported on January 28 from different districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A girl child was also kidnapped, raped and killed in Quetta, Balochistan.

1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons
Muslim women and children are subject to rampant sexual harassment. Wikimedia Commons

A 24 year old man was arrested for raping and killing seven year old girl, Zainab in a city called Kasur, which lies south of Lahore in the Punjab province. This pervert is a religious person and sings songs praising the so called holy prophet of Muslims for a living. He killed seven girls before sexually assaulting Zainab for four days then killing and throwing her dead body in a rubbish dump on January 9.

Police treated her abduction as a routine matter. As per an official count ten children, five of them girls were sexually assaulted and murdered in Kasur within a short span of time.

The first of such incident was reported way back in 2015. This reveals the incompetence of Police and administration in Kasur. Khalid says these sort of unfortunate incidents are rapidly rising all over Pakistan.

Also Reading: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Eight boys were murdered after criminal assaults in 2017. In Sargodha, the body of a violated 15 year old girl was dumped in the fields on January 11. In Pattoki, an 11 year old boy was strangled after being sexually assaulted. In Sheikhupura another eight year old girl was abducted, raped and strangled to death before being thrown in a dustbin.

In Kasur, the Police registered cases against the Plaintiffs for reporting the crime instead of arresting the offenders. The local judge incarcerated the poor parents.

The victims of a gang of rapists even went to Lahore and protested in front of the assembly, after which the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif heard their grievances for four hours. He promised to help the victims with lawyers and transportation but ultimately Sharif didn’t provide any assistance. (1)

Muslim women
Muslim women are being exploited in the name of religion.

‘Bacha bazi’ an old tradition of Afghanistan has been documented in the award winning film ‘The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan’ featuring journalist Najibullah Quraishi. The film depicts accounts of Afghan boys subjected to sexual slavery.

According to ‘The Guardian’; “The bacha (child) dancers are often abused children, whose families have rejected them. Their owners or masters can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery as concubines.”

An Afghan boy Omid says that he is paid approximately $2 for the night and often gang-raped. He mentioned that he cannot go to police for help because the perpetrators are powerful and rich men. The police cannot do anything against them.

The ‘New York Times’ wrote that American soldiers are ordered to ignore the screaming cries of young boys sexually abused by their Afghan allies. The Americans are told to turn a deaf ear to this aspect of ‘Afghan culture’.

‘Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and produced by Jamie Doran tells deeply distressing stories of vulnerable children from Peshawar.

These unfortunate kids try to ease the pain of their lives by using narcotics or resorting to self-harm by cutting themselves. They get regularly raped as well as gang raped.

Children are being kidnapped and raped on almost daily basis.

According to one man, “Once there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him”. This pervert boastfully admitted to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor. (2)

More than 150 women filed criminal complaints, three quarters of them for sexual assault. Two cases of rape were reported in the infamous mass sex assault by Muslim asylum seekers on girls and women in the German city of Cologne on New Years Eve of 2016. (5)

David Spicer led a review in the wake of ‘Operation Sanctuary’, which saw 18 people jailed for the sexual abuse of young women groomed in Newcastle, U.K.

The exploitation was not recognized in adults. This operation identified approximately 700 victims across the Northumbria Police area, 108 in Newcastle.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Mr. Spicer carried out the serious case review for the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. He said that “adults were being targeted, groomed and exploited besides children” but the authorities did not have the powers to intervene with adults to stop them from ‘making bad choices’ or forming ‘inappropriate relationships’.

The report also examined the exploitation of boys and men but said it was complex as well as hidden and operated differently to female victims.

Mr. Spicer stated, “The low incidence of identified cases is likely to be a significant under-representation of the abuse occurring”

One of Spicer’s 33 recommendations includes a need for research into the cultural background of abusers, majority of which are from a ‘predominantly Asian or British minority ethnic culture or background’.

Muslim women and children deserve greater justice. Wikimedia Commons

Most of these abusers are British born but came from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Muslim communities.

The Quillam Foundation think tank, which focuses on counter-extremism said 84% of the 264 convicted offenders of gang grooming between 2005 and 2017 were of South Asian Muslim heritage.

David Spicer mentioned that the perpetrators he spoke to ‘displayed no regret and spoke in a derogatory manner about lack of morals in British girls”. (3)

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place.

Sabica says; “It’s sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places. I’ve been harassed, not once, not twice, but thrice. My entire experience at the holy city is overshadowed by this horrible incident”

As soon as Sabica’s post went viral on social media, a large number of Muslim women started sharing their sad experiences of sexual molestation at religious places with the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.

“Each time my mom and her sisters went to Hajj, they were groped-disgusting ppl w/no morals. Toxic patriarchy; keep doing what you’re doing, Mona”- Hassan Saleh.

Muslim
Muslim women are not safe even in the place of their worship. Twitter

“Had to stop going for Taraweeh and Qiyam one Ramadan because of some gentlemen. Stayed mum because I thought no one’d believe me, or I’d be accused of having an overactive imagination. #MosqueMeToo is our skeleton in the closet”- Kali. (4)

It is quite clear from the above mentioned ghastly criminal acts that Islam has a chronic problem regarding sexual abuse of children and women.

Sources;

  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/unsafe-spaces-5057826/
  2. https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29547/the-filthy-culture-of-bacha-bazi-in-afghanistan/
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-tyne-43153556
  4. http://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-globally/muslim-women-sharing-their-sexual-harassment-incidents-at-hajj-has-shaken-up-netizens-metoo-5058222/
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/12086473/Suspects-in-Cologne-sex-attacks-claimed-to-be-Syrian-refugees.html

(The author, Gaurav Tyagi, is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.)