Nigerian Muslim community will this Thursday September 24, join others all over the world to mark the Eid el-Fitri celebration. Already, more than one million Muslims are in Mecca, Saudi Arabia performing this year’s Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam.
Hajj brings Muslims from all the branches of Islam together in one city — a city controlled by the Saudi government, which rigorously follows the conservative and strict interpretation of the Wahhabi branch of the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence.
Hajj is not only a place to bring together all peoples of the world, but also a place for promoting peace ( Al-Baqarah 2: 145), as well as a place to help humanity realize its universality ( Al-Ma’Idah 5: 97). In the holy Quaran, Prophet Mohammed was asked to invite people to Hajj so that they would witness the beauty and magnificence of Allah’s guidance.
Hajj also provides an opportunity for the faithful to witness the common bonds among people despite differences in tongue, status, and race.
Hence, Hajj promotes the dignity of human beings of all sexes and creates opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas to enable adherents diligently serve Allah with humility. This was the prevalent spirit during the time of Prophet Mohammed and shortly after his exit.
But recent developments have shown a marked departure from the original intent and purpose of Hajj. And this gives cause for concern.
Regrettably, modern day Hajj has been dominated by business-orientation, with wide chasm existing between the rich and the poor, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Call it commercialized Hajj, lacking religious piety.
Many Hajj operators are making huge fortunes from the exercise while the affluent among the pilgrims buy reserved spaces at both Makkah and Medina mosques. This was not the original intention of Hajj which sees every worshiper as equal before Allah. For instance, at death every Muslim irrespective of status is buried the same way. We have witnessed such during the burial of Presidents, Kings, and pauper.
Indeed, when Prophet Mohammed performed his Hajj, the only provision that he had with him was worth no more than four dirham as contained in the Holy book.
Whereas, Hajj is meant to teach pilgrims endurance and perseverance for higher causes, it has been turned into an exercise in convenience and display of affluence and power by some pilgrims.
In the same vein, Hajj is meant for the faithful to express utmost humility in the presence of other human beings by declaring that ‘Here I am, here I am, I will not make any one Allah’s partner. Allah is the one who is in control of everything and He alone is the one who is the source of all blessings and praise”, today however, Hajj has become (to many) a sign of authority, influence and pride.
Through social engineering and manipulation of wealth, Hajj is gradually and speedily adapting social elements that differentiate the rich from the poor, the very institution it is supposed to demolish. Divisions among pilgrims on the basis of ethnicity, and money are noticeable throughout the period of pilgrimage even while in camp waiting for airlift.
For instance, while pilgrims from poor nations find accommodation several kilometers away from the Haram, those from rich nations stay within the vicinity of the Kabbah, which is the centre of guidance to humanity where the first house of worship was established.
Another ugly development is the infiltration of Mecca by militants. Studies have shown that the mixture of people of all races make room for volatile confrontations, such as during the 1987 Hajj, when Saudi forces took action to suppress an anti-U.S. demonstration by Iranian pilgrims. The most dramatic incident related to the Hajj occurred Nov. 20, 1979, when, shortly after the end of the Hajj, hundreds of heavily armed militants led by Juhaiman al-Utaibi seized control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, taking several hundred lingering pilgrims hostage.
The violence in Mecca that year had widespread repercussions. Iranian Supreme Leader late Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini blamed the United States for the seizure of the mosque, and, on Nov. 21, 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad was burned to the ground by an angry mob. On Dec. 2 of that year, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, was attacked and burned, resulting in the withdrawal of all U.S. government officials from the country until 2004. This means that in addition to viewing the Hajj as a potential opportunity to stage attacks, militant operatives also can use the vast crowds as an ideal setting to conduct meetings or pass documents or messages via courier. For an organization such as al Qaeda, ISIS or even Boko Haram, the pilgrimage to Mecca is an opportunity for representatives from all of its regional and affiliated groups to meet — with very little chance of being monitored. Such a feat would be difficult at any other time and place.
The importance of meetings during the Hajj season was highlighted in several biographies of al Qaeda’ s late leader, Osama bin Laden, including one on the PBS Frontline Website.
Obviously, al Qaeda is not the only militant group that could take advantage of the Hajj gathering to meet. A group such as Hamas that has been largely isolated from the outside world also could use the Hajj as an opportunity to meet its operatives and supporters from the United States and Europe. Militant groups may also use the Hajj as an excuse to relocate operatives for future operations
Hajj also opens up opportunity for other deadly groups such as Boko Haram to engage in fundraising. In addition to the well-documented use of donations to Muslim charities to finance militant groups, for many years now, intelligence reports have indicated that wealthy donors from Saudi Arabia and other countries literally provide bags of cash to representatives of militant groups. To avoid being detected, such cash could be sent out of Saudi Arabia using the unofficial Hawala system, or physically carried by a courier.
Nevertheless, there still abound those who go to Hajj with good intentions. These are people who come to take the inspiration to transform themselves for higher and brighter spiritual life in line with Allah’s injunction. These are the people who do not struggle to have special positions; do not care about magnificent and luxurious hotels; do not come on shopping spree; and do not come to buy expensive jewelries and perfumes. These are the real servants of Allah.
While in Hajj, they remember the covenant Allah made with Abraham, and his descendants. In these people and their belief, are the real intent and mission of Hajj.
While Nigerians and indeed, Muslims all over the world embark on this year’s Hajj, as well as join millions of other faithful to mark Eid el- Fitri this week, let me remind pilgrims that the dignity and honour of going on pilgrimage does not lie on the number of suitcases and luggage they bring back, but in their dedication and commitment to the divine values of Islam and living by those values thereafter. It is only when the tenets of Islam are adhered to, that, the original intent of Hajj would be said to have been restored. BARKA DE SALLAH.

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