Hajj is not the time for protests and demonstrations
The Hajj predates Islam by centuries. Before Islam, it was something of a carnival and included sport and other entertainment as well as worship by pilgrims in varying degree of dress and undress. With the advent of Islam the focus of that worship, the idols, were turfed out of the Kaaba, and the pilgrimage underwent a sea change. The Hajj became one of the pillars of Islam. The equality of all men in God’s eyes, an intrinsic facet of Islam, is reflected in the male pilgrims’ attire, with every man wearing the same white unstitched garment; at a glance, they all look the same which is not something you could say for the same people anywhere else.
Millions of pilgrims perform the Hajj, therefore, accidents invariably happen, some worse than others. There have been fires and epidemics. During, Hajj last year a crane collapsed near Mecca killing many people. In this, and the stampede that followed over 2,000 pilgrims died. According to the figures provided by individual governments Iran lost 464 of its citizens, far exceeding that of any other country. These fatalities appear to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, never agreeable, entered their most belligerent phase. This year some two million Muslims from around the world performed Hajj, but there are no pilgrims from Iran among them.
I never thought I’d find myself supporting the Saudis in any way at all, except that in my personal experience they do a pretty good job of handling the massive flood of people coming into their country each year during Hajj. And although with Ahmadinejad my opinion of Iran’s politicians had become less unfavourable I find myself critical of Iran’s approach to the Hajj and what is appropriate to the occasion.
The Hajj is perceived as a visit to the House of Allah Himself and is an event that Muslims look forward to the right until they can take part in it. The experience has a lasting effect on everyone, this period of soul searching, introspection, and seeking God’s Forgiveness and Grace, His blessing on each individual, his family and friends. The Hajj is a time to seek God’s Mercy, for oneself and for all humanity, for amity in these times of conflict. For the space of those few days, the pilgrims pray as they rarely do otherwise, focusing on the spiritual more intensely than ever before or again. Pilgrims yearn for peace at this time. They need peace to focus effectively on the journey ahead, on prayer, on their personal growth as individuals and their relationship with the Divine.
To destroy this peace by any deliberate means is a crime, there are no two ways about it.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are rooted in the different sectarian viewpoints of the two countries, and in the fact that Saudi Arabia is a prominent American ally, Iran is not. It has led to Iran’s citizens protesting on Saudi soil during Hajj, to Saudi Arabia executing a prominent Shia cleric and Iran’s citizens protesting by setting fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.
This year, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have blamed each other for Iran’s citizens’ inability to perform Hajj, a result of the breakdown of talks between the two countries. Iran’s President has suggested that another country should manage the Hajj event. Saudi Arabia disagrees.
But you know what? It is time individuals, organisations and countries stopped hijacking religion and all that goes along with it for their personal ends. Muslims all over the world have had it to the grief of Islam being used as a spring board for dissension and violence.
Hajj is an event to which people arrive after putting their lives on hold. The majority must save for years to be able to afford the journey. This precious time, a time for peaceful dialogue with one’s Maker, a spiritual time, is not an occasion for rallies and demonstrations of protest. There are other platforms, political and religious, that either country can use, that any country can use to resolve whatever issues they may have, even religious ones. If talks between these two countries have failed they should initiate fresh ones, and fresh ones till they arrive at a solution. Go ahead and think of other means and use them. And if peaceful means do not meet with their approval they can do with themselves what they wish without hurting anyone else, but leave religion and the things that go with it alone, let people who wish to practice Islam do so in peace the way they should be able to. God is neither Shiite, nor Sunni, nor Wahabi. He simply is. Take your paltry skirmishes elsewhere and be done with it.