Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Sacred Hajj

Iran boycotted the Hajj for three years between 1988 and 1990 [Reuters]
The Inner sanctorum of the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam, Mecca [Reuters]

"This incident [the human-crowd collision of two opposite-marching assemblies meeting on a intersecting narrow prospect, creating a violent confusion of of human bodies smashing against one another with a death toll of 2,400] proves once again that this cursed, evil family [House of Saud] does not deserve to manage the holy sites [Mecca and Medina]."
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

"We have to understand that they [Iran's leaders] are not Muslims. They are children of the Magi [Zoroastrians] and their hostility towards Muslims is ancient."
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh

"If the existing problems with the Saudi government were merely the issue of the Hajj ... maybe it would have been possible to find a way to resolve it."
"Unfortunately, this government - by committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism - in fact shed the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

One of the five pillars of Islam, the annual hajj where able-bodied Muslims are expected, at least once in their lives, to take part in the hajj pilgrimage gather in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is once again the cause and centre of a vitriolic storm of accusations and denigration between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, sectarian adversaries of long standing. Arab Sunnis and Aryan Shiites detest one another, each considering the other apostate.

The world's Islamic population is majority Sunni, with Shiites representing no more than one-third of the total, even less, and each resents the other. Shia Islam believes in descent from the Prophet Mohammad to command, while Sunni Islam believes that any capable Islamic leader who can assemble popular support can rule the universal caliphate. Each accuses the other of supporting terrorism, and in this regard, they're quite right, even while each denies they do any such thing.

Each has an abundance of natural energy resources in fossil fuel deposits which have enriched them through the sale of oil products to the international community, and their rivalry extends to this arena as well. But nothing quite whets the flame of hatred between them so much as their rivalry for control of the Middle East. The House of Saud has the advantage as it were of stewardship and responsibility of the two major holy sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, a cause of great resentment by Iran which fulminates that Saudi Arabia mismanages the holy sites.

It was certainly an instance of gross mismanagement last year at the death of so many Muslim pilgrims. Every year the hajj generates some kind of calamity with people dying in the press of humanity all striving to achieve the same thing. The effort to direct and secure the process is a prodigious one, but somehow last year a featured walkway to a bridge saw crowds at intersecting streets collide, with people being tramped and suffocated. Among them were 464 Iranian pilgrims who died in the stampede.

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef defended the Saudi kingdom's operation of the pilgrimage, pointing out that Iranian authorities "politicize hajj and convert it into an occasion to violate the teachings of Islam". The teachings of Islam interpreted through history tell an interesting story. One of malappropriation of a much older religion's basic tenets in a selective manner to act as a scaffold for the new religion that the Prophet Mohammad was forging for Bedouin tribes in the Middle East.

Mohammad, after inventing his bold new religion, was refused entry to Mecca, so he travelled with his band of conquest to Medina instead. Which was where two large Judean tribes had their historical homes. Mohammad informed the Judean leaders that god had presented him with the final monotheistic version of Judaism, and invited them to accept Islam and forfeit Judaism. When they refused, he set his scimitar-wielding army of Islam upon them, slaughtering whom they could, banishing the rest from Medina, and taking the women as sex slaves.
"The city of Medina, some 280 miles north of Mecca, had originally been settled by Jewish tribes from the north, especially the Banu Nadir and Banu Quraiza. The comparative richness of the town attracted an infiltration of pagan Arabs who came at first as clients of the Jews and ultimately succeeded in dominating them. Medina, or, as it was known before Islam, Yathrib, had no form of stable government at all. The town was tom by the feuds of the rival Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, with the Jews maintaining an uneasy balance of power. The latter, engaged mainly in agriculture and handicrafts, were economically and culturally superior to the Arabs, and were consequently disliked.... as soon as the Arabs had attained unity through the agency of Muhammad they attacked and ultimately eliminated the Jews."
Bernard Lewis, Islamic scholar 

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