The Evil Guardians of Islam

Source: presstv.ir

Source: presstv.ir

Muslims of the world could not be more unfortunate to have countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia in charge of their larger political leadership. Not only they are arguably the worst governments in the world, but they have somehow also become the spiritual leaders of the two leading schools of Islam.

Recently both the countries made the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, controversial by bringing their ongoing political tussle into the sacred ritual. While the Iranian spiritual leader questioned the administrative control of Hajj by the Saudis because of their treatment of pilgrims, which apparently sounds like legitimate criticism, the Saudi side responded in an even worse manner. If you can consider the Grand Mufti the Saudi side.

The Grand Mufti declared that the Iranians are not Muslims. Ah, the “True Islam” problem, here we go again. But it is not as simple as that. His statement was discriminatory and arguably racist since he is implying that an entire nation is predisposed to be hostile toward Islam. Probably the Grand Mufti is confusing Islam with the Saudi Royal family and with the statement has cleared any doubts about him being the official mouthpiece of the Saudi establishment. Something that puts him more in a political than a spiritual role.

The Grand Mufti is a figure who may not be equivalent to the Pope but is at least supposed to be uncontroversial in his appeal to all Muslims. However, you could argue that his figure is one that pilgrims from all over the world revere. Now fortunately or unfortunately, Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh has to step down from delivering his Hajj sermon this year anyway, but for reasons related to his health, not his controversial statement.

But what does this mean for a common Muslim? Perhaps this means that the current Grand Mufti would lose the respect that his office deserves. And if the Grand Mufti would never have a choice but to be the official mouthpiece of the Saudi government, then perhaps it could even mean the loss of respect for the very office for good.

You can only feel sorry for millions of Muslims, who have to go through a lot of pain and even risk their lives to complete this ordeal of a ritual, to be at the mercy of such feuding powers. But that does not change how terrible the Grand Mufti’s statement is. The Iranians have simply won the argument with a battle of words, and the Saudi spiritual leader has simply forfeited his position by rejecting a nationality from a universal religion.

Perhaps the Iranian Supreme Leader is right. With such behavior, the Saudi authorities are disqualifying themselves from being the administrators of the universal ritual of Hajj. Earlier, the Saudi authorities have been accused of banning Yemeni pilgrims from Hajj following the armed conflict between the two countries, which the Saudi government denies.

Before the Ayatollah’s statement, even Iran had banned its citizens to perform Hajj as well out of security and logistic concerns and had blamed Saudis for the crisis. Saudi Arabia had cut off diplomatic ties with Iran earlier this year after protesters in Tehran set the Saudi embassy on fire in protest against the execution of a Shia scholar in Saudi Arabia.

Restricting Muslims from any nation, in word or in action, is a betrayal of the legacy of the Holy Prophet. That legacy should matter to the self-proclaimed guardians of Islam.

Sadly, the Iranian Supreme Leader and the Grand Mufti don’t realize that their irresponsible statements are putting common Muslims in a position where they cannot avoid falling into one belligerent camp against the other. They are forcing them to put in a position where they would end up disrespecting other Muslims whether they perform Hajj or not.

These evil guardians of Islam on both sides of the fence are the part of the problem and the world would be better off without them.

A version of the post was originally published in The Nation blogs
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Saudi Authorities Need to Answer for the Mecca Crane Tragedy

Source: AP/Indian Express

Source: AP/Indian Express

There is a certain problem with dealing with Arab world in general and with Saudi Arabia in particular. You never really expect a complete, comprehensible answer about anything from them. Some would say the same is true for Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia, but you cannot help but observe that about Saudi Arabia, considering how closely they are allied to the Western democracies.

Now call me a bigot comedian, but that is almost always the case when the Saudis screw something up. No matter who the party that they are dealing with is, they never expect to get an answer from the Saudis, and they hardly ever get one anyway. That has been the sad history, and they really are hardly accountable to anyone. And I am sure it’s not because of the language barrier.

I am sure that the Saudi Kingdom is going to offer no explanations this time around either, or even any solid assurances, about the horrifying Mecca crane tragedy. I have heard that there is a probe going on though. Earlier in September, a giant crane fell into the massive courtyard of the Al-Haraam Mosque full of pilgrims on a stormy night, killing more than a hundred and injuring several. People of various nationalities died that day, due to an accident that clearly could have been avoided by removing all those cranes in the first place altogether, for example.

We all recall the time when scores of pilgrims used to die due to the regular stampedes occurring in Mina, where the ritual of the stoning of the Satan is performed. The administrators have made great arrangements to make the process become more organized, so that such disasters be avoided. Apparently, the measures have been a tremendous success as you hardly ever hear about such a problem anymore, and it is a tremendous relief.

It is unreasonable to doubt the concern and intentions of Saudi authorities about the safety and well being of the pilgrims and no one is doing so anyway, considering the billions they spend every year for the maintenance and upkeep of the premises of the mosque complex in Mecca and Medina. Of course, they cannot afford to risk their reputation for ensuring and promoting the safety, security, and comfort of the pilgrims, whether for religious or secular reasons. Surely, the religious pilgrims would not stop flocking to Mecca no matter how terrible the conditions are, as many of them would find it a blessing to die there without having any regard for the families they are leaving behind. But I hope the Saudi authorities do not share their religious fanaticism and would think otherwise.

They must ensure the world that the Hajj or the pilgrimage is safe, now that the great ritual for this year is only a few days away .

They need to explain to the world why they have turned the Mosque Al-Haraam into a constant construction site. And if they are hell-bent to do so, why are they allowing millions of pilgrim in the premises under such dangerous conditions.

Probably people in the administration have taken the advice of development and construction for pilgrimage safety a bit too literal, so much so that they have started exposing common pilgrims to the dangers that a construction worker in Saudi Arabia faces every other day.

I have always been skeptical of the safety of the entire process of the pilgrimage, though many would say that is precisely the point, always warning family members about it and anxious about their safety every time I hear someone is leaving for it or if one of those stampedes occurred. So yes, I know what it is like to come close to losing a family member to such a tragedy, not too different to learning about a plane crash that you suspect your relative is on. It’s not a good feeling.

So the Saudi authorities might want to assure the people of the safety of the construction-site like mosque they are offering for pilgrimage this time around, unless it is the theme for the year. They also owe an explanation not only to several countries the citizens of which lost their lives needlessly to an avoidable accident, but to the entire world.

But like always, there will be no one around to ask the question in the first place.

Besides, I have heard only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca.

In any case, go at your own risk.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.