Hajj is supposed to remove all distinctions of wealth, class, position or authority but the Saudis have reduced it to a purely commercial enterprise devoid of its Qur’anic content and Prophetic sunnah.
Hajj is meant to be a great leveller. By donning the two pieces of unstitched cloth, all distinctions of rank, power and wealth are obliterated among pilgrims. Every act of ‘ibadah in Islam is in fact meant to remove such distinctions. Yet the current occupiers of the Haramayn — the House of Saud — are trying to impose distinctions. Not only have they imposed severe restrictions on the number of Muslims that can perform Hajj, using the excuse of expansion work in al-Masjid al-Haram, the number of hujjaj has been reduced even more. Muslims from rich countries get preference over those from poorer regions. The rich are accommodated in five star hotels with lavish banquet facilities as if they are on a holiday instead of pilgrimage.
Hajj has become a five-star indulgence. Hajj “vendors” tout the facilities they offer, that higher prices fetch “better” facilities, such as hotels right next to the Haram. Pilgrims are told they do not even have to go to the floor of the Haram! Sound from al-Masjid al-Haram is piped into the hotel and pilgrims can pray in the “comfort of their hotel room.” One can imagine the distinctions that are being created: if you are rich, you can have all the luxuries; why rub shoulders with the underprivileged and the poor! Unfortunately, some Muslims have allowed themselves into being manipulated by such material lures ignoring the real spirit of Hajj.
Hajj is both the largest assembly of the Ummah as well as a reflection of the Ummah at any given time. If the Ummah is in a state of crisis — and it is difficult to think of any time in recent history when it has not been in the grip of multiple crises — the Hajj will be a crisis-ridden experience. It is no exaggeration to say that from start to finish, one encounters endless chaos while performing Hajj. This is the direct result of the gross incompetence and autoritarian imperiousness of the Saudis, the current occupiers of the Arabian Peninsula who care little or nothing about service or management. They are driven only by greed; and hence to gouge the “lowly” hujjaj of whatever they can in the form of Hajj “packages” is considered by them to be a right. Greedy middlemen, hangers-on of the Saud clan, are given privileges to manage various aspects of Hajj from accommodation to transportation. The best hotels are owned by the Saudi “royals.” These are built with money taken (stolen) from the Bayt al-Mal, courtesy of the court ‘ulama who have dished out fatwas “allowing” such theft. If the Saudi hordes could steal gold and jewels from al-Rawdah al-Mutahharah — the final resting place of the noble Messenger (pbuh) — as they did in 1805 and 1925, why would they feel any inhibition in gouging ordinary Muslims?
This is one dimension of the problem with the Saudi occupation of the Arabian Peninsula. As for Hajj serving as the annual assembly of the Ummah, the Saudis have made sure that no such activity takes place. Pilgrims are separated according to nationality and no discussion about the burning issues of the Ummah is allowed. Instead, the Saudi regime invites a select group of its paid agents for a lavish meal where they might get a glimpse of the king. This rather than the performance of Hajj, serves as the highlight of their experience!
Equally serious is the manner in which Hajj, one of the most important pillars of Islam, has been distorted and emptied of its true meaning. Unfortunately, Muslims have been led to believe that Hajj is only about rituals. This erroneous understanding has been deliberately promoted by the Saudi court ‘ulama and regrettably accepted by Muslims everywhere. Those ‘ulama and committed Muslims who try to emphasize the Qur’anic basis of Hajj are immediately accused of “politicizing” it.
Let us remind ourselves (and the imposters who stole the Haramayn) of the divine words in the majestic Qur’an that are seldom mentioned in any discussion about Hajj,
And a proclamation from Allah and His Apostle [is herewith made] to all mankind on this day of the Greatest Pilgrimage [Hajj], “Allah disavows all who attribute divinity/authority to any beside Him, and [so does] His Apostle…” (9:03).
Allah (swt) commands Muslims to proclaim their dissociation from mushrik powers, especially at the time of Hajj, yet the Saudi occupiers of the Arabian Peninsula insist Muslims must not bring up such matters during Hajj. Under what Islamic injunction do the illegitimate rulers and their court ‘ulama make such pronouncements? Are Muslims required to fulfill their obligations as outlined in the Qur’an and exemplified by the noble Messenger (pbuh) or abide by the insulting policies of the House of Saud?
The Muslim world will continue to suffer humiliation as long as Makkah and Madinah remain under Saudi control. Liberation of the Haramayn must become an urgent priority of the global Islamic movement.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought