Saturday February 22, 2020

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

FGM is Embraced as a Traditional Practice in Indonesia: Research

Study: Indonesians Embrace Female Genital Mutilation as Religious, Traditional Practice

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Indonesian girls with their mother leaving a school-hall-turned-clinic after the daughters were circumcised in Bandung. The Indonesian government has come under fire after the UN General Assembly in November passed its first resolution condemning female genital mutilation (FGM) which more than 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to. Kania was later circumcised. VOA

By Nurhadi Sucahyo

With a knife, a razor blade, scissors or a needle, half of Indonesia’s girls are circumcised, and a new study found that it is a tradition more rooted in family folkways than religion.

“Cultural reproduction occurs in the household,” said Sri Purwatiningsih, a researcher of Center for Population and Policy Studies at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta. “Circumcised grandmothers tend to circumcise their daughter. A mother who was circumcised by the grandmothers will most likely circumcise their daughter.”

Purwatiningsih presented her findings Thursday, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, at the university, where the center refers to the procedure as female genital mutilation or cutting.

Indonesia ranks third in the world, at 49%, for the rate of prevalence of female circumcision, after Mali, at 83%, and Mauritania, at 51%. According to an Indonesian Basic Health Research study from 2013, 51% of the nation’s girls up to the age of 11 have been circumcised. Among them, 72.4% were circumcised at between 1 and 5 months, 13.9% when they were between 1 and 4 years old, and 3.3% were 5 to 11 years old.

INDONESIA FGM
A man shows the logo of a T-shirt that reads “Stop the Cut” referring to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) during a social event advocating against harmful practices such as FGM at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

UN definition

Female genital mutilation refers to “any procedure involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genitals for nonmedical reasons,” according to the United Nations Population Fund. The most widespread practices worldwide involve partial or total removal of the clitoris, prepuce, or both, and the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. The UNPF found the practice is linked to child marriage and said it “predates rise of Christianity and Islam,” and was practiced as recently as the 1950s in Western Europe and the United States because a clitoridectomy was performed “to treat perceived ailments, including mental and sexual disorders.”

More than an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and “the impacts on their health and well-being can be immediate — from infections, bleeding or psychological trauma — to chronic health conditions that can occur throughout life,” according to a U.N. release. It continued to say, “the cost of treating the total health impacts” of female genital mutilation is $1.4 billion globally per year.

“FGM is not only a catastrophic abuse of human rights that significantly harms the physical and mental health of millions of girls and women; it is also a drain on a country’s vital economic resources,” said Dr. Ian Askew, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research on a U.N. website.

Indonesian study

A survey focused on Indonesian girls and women, conducted by the Center for Population and Policy Studies in 2017, found 87.3% of 4,250 households in 10 provinces obtained female circumcision information from their parents. Of those surveyed, 92.7% said they believed the practice was primarily religious and 84.1% said the practice is also traditional. An overwhelming majority of respondents, 97.8%, approved of female circumcision, saying the tradition should be practiced.

The survey also found that traditional Indonesian birth attendants were responsible for 45% of female circumcisions, midwives or nurses conducted 38%, female circumcision specialists performed 10%, and doctors performed 1%.

Hamim Ilyas, a professor at the Faculty of Sharia and Law at Islamic National University Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta told VOA Indonesia that only those who interpret Islam in the most literal way can find justification for female circumcision in its teachings.

He considers the best approach to the issue to be “state based,” meaning families should obey Indonesia’s laws. He used traffic lights as an example, religion never taught a person to stop at a red light, but the signal represents a law that drivers know to obey.

“The minister of health’s regulation has forbidden FGM. … However, the government seems to be hesitant under pressure,” from fundamentalist sectors of Indonesian society, he said. “If the government is determined, if the government is brave, the practice can be eradicated. But the government seems not ready yet [to enforce the law] because the people are not ready yet. We have to change our society, to be a society that anti-FGM. It is through the transformation of religious understanding — not [by] changing the teaching, but changing the understanding of it.”

INDONESIA FGM
Indonesian doctor preparing to circumcise a female child in Bandung. VOA

Indonesian law

Ika Ayu, an activist at the Jaringan Perempuan Yogyakarta, or Yogyakarta Female Network, criticized the government’s indecisiveness on FGM, as even Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, rejected the practice in 2008.

Despite the Ministry of Health regulations, she said, “The government has not ever been clear in regulating FGM, while we know FGM has been listed as harmful practice as part of [the U.N.’s] Sustainable Development Goals.”

She urged the government to be more decisive and added, “Today, we commemorate zero tolerance for female genital mutilation, but in practice, it is still being done. We should ask, ‘How can a country guarantee the fulfillment of every citizen’s rights?’ Female circumcision violates individual rights because it was done without the girls’ consent.”

Also Read- All You Need to Know About Anti-Semitism and Religious Conflicts

Dr. Mukhotib, a reproductive health activist who, like many Indonesians uses only one name, told VOA that the many reasons to reject female circumcision include the fact that it has no medical benefit, countering traditional beliefs.

“There is no benefit to FGM. It does not make women healthier,” he said. “If there is no medical benefit, why bother?” (VOA)