Monday October 21, 2019

While Iran boycotts this year’s Hajj, Security gets Tighter as Hajj Begins in Saudi Arabia

Thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran on Friday to protest Saudi Arabia ahead of the Hajj

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Pilgrim in supplication at Masjid al-Haram. Wikimedia Commons
  • Nearly two million people from around 150 countries are expected to take part in the five-day pilgrimage this year
  • It is the world’s biggest annual gathering of people and all Muslims are expected to do Hajj at least once in their lifetime
  • The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam

Sept 11, 2016: Iran is boycotting this year’s Hajj, citing Saudi “incompetence” and a poor response by health and safety officials. Masses of Iranian Shi’ites have instead converged on the holy Iraqi city of Karbala for an alternative pilgrimage.

Tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims are absent from this year’s Hajj as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran flare over last year’s stampede, – the largest number of deaths reported by any country. During last year’s pilgrimage, several hundred Iranians were among at least 2,000 people crushed to death in a stampede in Mecca.

This year’s pilgrimage has introduced new security measures to prevent a recurrence of Hajj 2015’s deadly stampede, which, according to the Saudi Arabian officials, killed at least 760 pilgrims, however the actual death toll could be as high as 2,180.

This time Iran has boycotted the Hajj, but it comes at a time when tensions with rival Saudi Arabia are at a record high over conflicts in Syria and Yemen, where Tehran and Riyadh support opposite sides.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran last January after demonstrators set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran following Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Muslim pilgrims sit inside their accommodation after their arrival at Arafat during the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 10, 2016. VOA
Muslim pilgrims sit inside their accommodation after their arrival at Arafat during the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 10, 2016. VOA

In recent weeks, rhetoric between the two capitals has escalated. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has challenged Saudi Arabia’s right to manage Islam’s holy sites, accusing the Saudi royal family of “murder” in last year’s stampede. A prominent Saudi cleric responded by saying Iran’s leaders are “not Muslim.”

SAFETY CONCERNS-

Access to the Kaaba has been suspended during prayers and officers in red berets and camouflage uniforms have surrounded crowd-controlling barricades, as part of several safety measures implemented this year after the stampede.

The Kingdom has also  issued pilgrims with identification bracelets, which carry a bar code readable by smartphones and that hold data such as the pilgrim’s identity, nationality and where they are staying in Mecca.Saudi Arabia has doubled down on safety and security in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year’s disaster. The publication Arab News reported that authorities had conducted 1,000 health and safety training courses in recent weeks and deployed 26,000 medical, technical and other official personnel to pilgrimage areas in Mecca, Medina, Arafat and Mina, along with a fleet of more than 175 ambulances.

Thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran on Friday to protest Saudi Arabia ahead of the Hajj.

Security officials have placed 1,000 cameras at strategic locations to allow constant monitoring of events.

All pilgrims are being outfitted with water-resistant e-bracelets equipped with bar codes that link to personal information, including medical records, in an effort to facilitate treatment in case of illness or injury.

Health, however, is only one concern. In early July, three suicide bombers struck separate targets across Saudi Arabia, including the site in Medina where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to be buried. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which Saudi Arabia believes was inspired by the Islamic State group. The bombings have raised questions about the kingdom’s ability to protect Saudi citizens and visitors during the Hajj.

Authorities have limited the number of visas for each country in an effort to control crowds. All “guests of Allah” are required to carry permits, and police have set up security checkpoints to prevent unauthorized pilgrims from entering the holy sites. It has also vowed strict punishment for all offenders.

‘Journey for God’

Hajj refers to a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca and is one of the five pillars of Islam. At least once in his or her lifetime, each Muslim is expected to undertake this pilgrimage the sacred city of Islam. This holy journey is called the hajj in Arabic. While a visit to Mecca is beneficial any time of the year, it must take place during the month of Dhu al-Hijja (the last month of the Islamic year) to fulfill the requirements of the hajj.

As with the sawm (fasting), exceptions are made for those who are physically or financially unable to fulfill this obligation, and one is actually commanded not to make the hajj if to do so would cause hardship for his or her family.

The hajj is commanded in the Quran – “And pilgrimage to the House is a duty unto God for mankind, for him who can find the way thither” (3:97) – and its rites were established by Muhammad, but Muslim tradition dates it back to Adam and Abraham, who were instructed by angels in the performance of the rites. The hajj was one of the last public acts of worship performed by Muhammad before his death.

About 2 million Muslims complete the hajj each year. The government of Saudi Arabia has contributed significant resources to maintain the holy places and manage the crowd of pilgrims. Despite the large numbers seen in Mecca each year, only a small percentage of Muslims have fulfilled the duty. Those who have done so may add the title hajj or hajji to their names. (VOA)

  • Manthra koliyer

    Haj is surely a great event!

  • Arya Sharan

    Sad to see such holy places threatened by the face of terrorism.

Next Story

Mohammad at Hudaybiyyah Provides a Lesson for Muslims Coping with Ayodhya

She made three observations: First, she found a mosque on a high ground jarring in a patently Hindu, temple town

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Mohammad, Hudaybiyyah, Muslims
She had accompanied me to Ayodhya, not specifically to watch the brick laying ceremony in August, 1989, but to be able to spend time with me because soon. Flickr

Should the Supreme Court verdict enable the building of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Muslim fears about the security of mosques in Kashi and the Idgah in Mathura would appear to have been taken care of by the Places of Worship Act of 1991. The Act spells out that all places of worship “except Ayodhya” will be maintained and respected as they were in 1947. Assurances, however, have value only when there is rule of law which has been a retreating value in recent years. In these circumstances, what is the wise course for the Muslims to adopt when the Ayodhya verdict is delivered before November 17? Mohammad.

Already, intemperate whispers are afloat that should the verdict favour the Mandir, some members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board would go in appeal. Years ago, a radically different way out for Muslims was spelt out by my mother, Atia Naqvi. She had accompanied me to Ayodhya, not specifically to watch the brick laying ceremony in August, 1989, but to be able to spend time with me because soon after the Ayodhya assignment I would catch the flight to New Delhi from Lucknow where she lived.

She made three observations: First, she found a mosque on a high ground jarring in a patently Hindu, temple town. Secondly, by her understanding of Muslim names, Mir Baqi, who is supposed to have built the mosque, was quite clearly a Shia. Why, then, was there no agitation in the Shia enclaves of Lucknow? And finally, and most importantly, if the Hindu had claimed it to be the birth place of Ram, why had the Muslim raised their objection to the highest pitch? Let me try to quote her verbatim from memory:

“A Muslim can spread out his prayer-mat anywhere facing the Kaaba and say his “namaz” (prayer). A Hindu consecrates the idol which is then alive eternally for worship.”

Mohammad, Hudaybiyyah, Muslims
Already, intemperate whispers are afloat that should the verdict favour the Mandir, some members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board would go in appeal. Flickr

It is not wise for Muslims to argue against the Hindu claim that Ram Lalla was born under what became the central dome of the mosque, now demolished. What archaeologists say is, in political terms, not as important as what the vast majority of people have been induced to repose absolute faith in. Since this faith is being exploited by political interests towards their agenda of “Hindu Rashtra”, the Muslim opposition to this transformational plan provides grist to the Hindutva mill. It enables Hindutva to sharpen Muslim-Hindu polarisation on an even larger scale.

The boost from two BJP seats in 1984 in Parliament to 350 now would not have been possible without the Muslims having been ensnared into opposing the agenda. This posture of Muslim ironically, served Hindutva’s purpose.

Muslims were first led into faulty politics by Syed Shahabuddin, a brilliant officer of the Indian Foreign Service whom Atal Behari Vajpayee, as Foreign Minister in the first Janata government (1977-80) handpicked as a “Muslim” face of the Janata Party. Shahab fell into the trap of wanting to be a leader of Indian Muslims rather than being a “Muslim leader”. Communal polarisation is built into the approach. Little wonder he found himself digging his heels in for the mosque when the Ayodhya dispute erupted.

The VHP, BJP had reheated an old issue as a strategy to neutralise V.P. Singh’s promotion of caste forces in the Hindi belt. L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra was intended to serve more than one purpose: to contain the ogre of casteism let loose by V.P. Singh and to accentuate the anti-Muslim slant of the BJP. This is where Shahab’s fierce opposition helped the BJP. What Advani initiated has spiralled into the stratosphere where the BJP today is.

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I must, of course, add in parenthesis, that Shahab was far from being communal. He was a deeply religious gentleman. In amoral politics, devoid of honesty, such a person can easily be cast as “communal” by those on an agenda of majoritarianism. Shahab had the honesty to recognise his naivet� and withdraw from politics. He did not have the “tact” which Justice Sibqat Ullah Khan stressed in his 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment on Ayodhya.

Justice Khan gave the example of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, which Prophet Mohammad signed with the hostile tribe of Quraysh in 628AD. It had been six years since the Prophet and his followers had left Mecca for Medina. After these years, the Prophet with a caravan of 1,000 men on his way to Mecca for Haj reached Hudaybiyyah. Quraysh had made it known that they would block Muslim entry to Mecca. The Prophet consulted his companions: should the caravan return to Medina or proceed, risking a battle?

Intermediaries carried messages back and forth. All that the Muslims wanted was to perform Haj at Mecca. This, the Quraysh were determined to prevent. Eventually, a truce was agreed upon. Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, drafted a treaty. The Prophet dictated that it was a treaty between “Mohammad, the Prophet of Allah, and Quraysh”. Interlocutors for Quraysh objected. They did not recognise him as God’s prophet. Ali, his cousin, refused to drop the preamble. The Prophet intervened and himself deleted the phrase, thus paving the way for a Treaty which declared a truce between the two sides.

The terms of the treaty were considered a surrender. For instance, despite the compromise, Muslims would not be allowed to perform Haj that year. Next year they could, provided they stayed in Mecca for only three days and so on.

Mohammad, Hudaybiyyah, Muslims
Years ago, a radically different way out for Muslims was spelt out by my mother, Atia Naqvi. Flickr

In modern military terms, the treaty turned out to be a sort of tactical retreat, because in a matter of a few years Muslims had conquered Mecca. At this stage, the story becomes a parable.

What “conquest” was Justice Khan recommending? If you study Hudaybiyyah as a parable alongside some of Iqbal’s couplets, which Justice Khan so aptly quotes, his message becomes clear: “communal disharmony” is what has to be conquered.

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But that precisely is what majoritarianism does not want. Its meteoric rise since 2014 is based on polarisation and more polarisation. (IANS)