Muslims worldwide were looking forward to performing Hajj this year after a two-year lockdown that prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligation due to the pandemic. Over the past two years, only a limited number of Saudi residents, mainly Saudi citizens were allowed to perform Hajj.
The excitement to perform Hajj, once-in-a-life-time experience for most Muslims, was short-lived, at least for those residing in Europe, North America and Australia. In typical arbitrary fashion, last month the Saudi regime announced new rules for Hajj pilgrims from western countries. They must book their Hajj pilgrimage through a Saudi government website, rather than via travel agencies.
Under the new rules, pilgrims from Europe, America and Australia must apply via the Saudi regime’s Motawif website. Rubbing salt into their wounds, it has now been discovered that a Hindu fascist outfit with close links to the Modi regime in India will be part of this Saudi scheme. So, Muslims must go through a Hindu mushrik outfit to perform Hajj!
Adding further uncertainty, the regime announced that pilgrims would find out whether they had been selected to perform Hajj via an “automated lottery”. Under what Islamic rule did they establish a “lottery” system to select people to perform Hajj?
The Qur’an is very clear about the performance of Hajj. In Surah al-Hajj, Allah says: “[O Prophet] call upon all people to [perform the duty of Hajj [and] they will come to you walking and by meager means of transportation—[all] coming via distant routes,” (22:27). In another surah (Al-e Imran), the Qur’an emphasizes Hajj as a duty owed to Allah. “Hence, pilgrimage to the House [of holiness] is a duty owed to Allah by all people who are able to undertake it [i.e. the journey physically and afford it financially] …” (3:96).
In addition to their legendary incompetence, the Saudis have imposed arbitrary restrictions on Hajj. One relates to visa that pilgrims must obtain before setting out to perform Hajj. Before the Bani Saud occupied the Arabian Peninsula, through British colonial intrigue, one must add, there was no such requirement. Muslims do not need a visa to fulfill their religious obligations.
The Saudis have also imposed an arbitrary restriction on the number of Muslims that can perform Hajj each year. They hide behind the excuse that only a certain number of people can be accommodated due to lack of space. This has more to do with faulty planning than shortage of space.
Why build steel and glass towers right next to the Haram in Makkah? The Saudis claim these high-priced hotels provide easy access for pilgrims. This is only for a select group: those with money. The overwhelming majority stay in buildings far away from the Haram.
Such distinctions based on wealth are against the spirit of Hajj. The two pieces of unstitched cloth that male pilgrims wear to perform Hajj is meant to obliterate all distinctions of wealth, power and authority. Yet, the Saudis have created different classes of Hajj in order to gouge those with money. Far from being a spiritually uplifting experience, the Saudis have turned Hajj into a money-making racket.
There are other un-Islamic practices they have introduced to perform Hajj. Pilgrims are hurried through the Hajj rituals and then told to leave as soon as possible. For most pilgrims, the Hajj experience lasts only a few days while the Qur’an states that Hajj is a matter of months: al-Hajjo ash hurum ma‘loomat (2:197).
The Saudis want to recycle as many pilgrims as possible in the shortest possible time. This has to do with both maximizing their profits and getting rid of pilgrims lest they interact with other pilgrims and start to get ideas about changing the way Hajj is performed.
One of the requirements of Hajj clearly stated in the Qur’an is the Bara’atun min al-mushrikeen declaration. This means that the pilgrims, as guests of Allah, must openly and loudly declare their dissociation from the mushrikeen at the time of Hajj (9:1-12).
It is important to understand the context of these ayats. In the ninth year of the Hijrah, when these ayats of Surah at-Tauba were revealed, the noble messenger (pbuh) asked Imam Ali (ra) to immediately go to Makkah and proclaim these ayats at the time of Hajj. The Muslims had gone for Hajj under the leadership of Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra). Imam Ali proclaimed these ayats at the time of Hajj as per the Qur’anic command and as instructed by the noble messenger (pbuh). The Saudis prohibit or impose severe restrictions on fulfilling this Qur’anic command.
Who should the Muslims follow: Allah and His Prophet (pbuh) or the Bani Saud?
Let us, however, return to the issue of the latest Hajj “lottery” scheme the Saudis have imposed on pilgrims from the west. The average Hajj package from the US and Canada can cost between $12,000 to $20,000, depending on the length of stay and level of service. The Saudis want all this money not wishing to share any with the travel agencies.
The travel agencies’ scheme was introduced by the Saudis more than 20 years ago. It was meant to prevent pilgrims from traveling on their own (of course, after obtaining a visa) to perform Hajj. The travel agencies had to coordinate with Saudi Motawifs for their services. Often the Motawifs fell far short of what they had promised but Muslims were pacified by telling them that Hajj is an arduous experience!
Muslims go for Hajj in groups with people they are familiar with. There is also often a Hajj guide accompanying them to explain the various steps they must perform to fulfill their Hajj obligations. At a stroke and without warning, the Saudis have changed the rules, at least for pilgrims from the west.
What necessitated this change has not been explained. Nor what is going to happen to pilgrims who “win the lottery” and arrive in Jeddah.
They will be at the non-existent mercy of the Motawifs whose legendary incompetence and indifference to the concerns of pilgrims might turn this year’s Hajj into an even bigger nightmare than what has been experienced in the past.