Is the Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, a scene for the divisions within the Islamic world to score political gains?
Unfortunately that is what the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran are making it after more than 1,000 pilgrims died in a stampede at the site of the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual in Mina, near Mecca, during the Hajj last month.
Hajj is one of the most sacred Islamic rituals. It is an event meant to encourage a spirit of unity and brotherhood among Muslims. But even in the wake of such an event, the human tendency to turn everything into a conspiracy is at large. This is not just bizarre but also an insult to the memory of the victims and their greiving relatives. Iran, after losing 450 of its citizens, has blamed the Saudi “mismanagement and negligence”. Iran’s Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for an apology from the Kingdom and urged Muslim countries to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the deaths.
“Instead of blaming this and that, the Saudis should take responsibility and apologise to the victims’ families,” he said on his official website.
“The Islamic world has a lot of questions. The death of more than 1,000 people is not a small issue. Muslim countries should focus on this,” he said making it clear that this will not be forgotten.
The other main participant in this blame game retaliated by blaming the tragedy on the “arrogance” of the government in Tehran and “misbehaviour” on the part of Iranian pilgrims. Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubair accused Iran of “playing politics”.
The head of Iran’s Hajj mission says that for “unknown reasons”, two paths had been closed off near the site of the ritual that led to the tragedy. Perhaps, Iran might be trying for the “de-Saudisation” of the holy sites and Hajj but then again, the way Saudi retaliated accusing Iranians of misconduct could be an attack against the Shia propaganda.
The most distressing thing is how this human tragedy is being discussed mainly because these governments are politicizing it and not because it is deeply saddening for so many people around the world.
Shia powerhouse Iran wants regional dominance that includes controlling the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah, and conducting the Hajj. Iran is actively campaigning for an international Islamic body to oversee the management of the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of Muslims across the world travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj every year. Being in full control of the holy sites the Saudi government should leave no stone unturned to ensure the pilgrims’ safety and comfort. The authority comes with responsibility and blaming is the last thing anyone should be doing. Saudis are spending billions of dollars for the smooth functioning of the Hajj. But the important question is, who can replace the current managers and provide the security needed to prevent this embarrassing spectacle from happening ever again?
Sunnis being appointed the custodians because they are in majority is not the answer. Shias, because the majority of victims were of them is not the answer either.
A radical change is needed. Muslims everywhere should raise a strong voice for a transparent investigation, improvised security and compassionate managers, who can give a sense of participation to pilgrims. Only that will put an end to, or reduce Hajj tragedies, once and for all.