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Hajj and Politics - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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I do not believe much has changed, over the last 14 centuries, concerning the Hajj (pilgrimage), as determined by Islam. The overwhelming majority of believers seek to perform the fifth pillar of Islam. This is what Hajj is all about. However, in the past, some individuals sought to use this event for other purposes than to glorify God. Politicians have succeeding in defeating this tendency after two decades of conflicts. Fortunately, the pilgrimage is not overseen by another government; otherwise the two holy mosques would have been filled with leaders’ pictures and their slogans. Nowadays, you visit the mountain of Mina without passing by any advertisement billboard or pictures of Kings or being handing any political literature.

Yet, despite this, the Hajj remains the largest competitive event in the world because it occurs at a specific time and a specific venue.

Every year, millions of people worldwide seek to perform the Hajj. Thousands of Nigerian pilgrims were left stranded at the Lagos airport earlier this year when they discovered the visas and plane tickets they had bought were counterfeit. They returned to their homes disappointed. Mecca is teeming with more than two million pilgrims, making the authorities concerned about a stampeded or a terrorist bomb, until the last pilgrim returns home safely.

In the past, governments have fought to be able to serve their own citizens. However, mount Arafat is a limited geographical area, even if, for one day only, it becomes the scene of the largest human assembly. No more than one government can assist in this endeavor. The instructions are written in eight languages; they address people from around the world, including many elderly, poor and illiterate.

When Islamic countries agree to allocate 100 visas for each million citizen, the political conflict was resolved. However, the demographic increases remain a source of problems given that popular increases far outweigh the ability of the holy sites to receive pilgrims.

Each government tries to appease its citizens by putting the blame on Saudi Arabia , as Iraq has recently done. The government in Baghdad sought to increase its share of visas, currently at 25 thousand. When it failed, it held the host country responsible.

Several important political disagreements took place in the past prior to the adoption of the agreement to allocate a quota to each country at the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Individual countries are now responsible for distributing these visas to their own citizens.

The most dangerous problem is when a country seeks to raise a political issue by exploiting the Hajj, as three have previously tried but failed. The stand of the majority of Muslim states against the politicization of the Hajj was crucial in this regard. It is not longer possible or permissible for the Hajj to become an arena where political conflicts and disputes are aired.

We have passed through difficult crises in order to reach this new stage where the rights of countries and the duties of the host nation have been settled. The Hajj is now governed by laws that ensure pilgrims are not abused.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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