HAJ, the most important annual gathering of the world’s over 1bn Muslims, is of course a religious obligation. But beyond the acts of worship, this event where Muslims gather regardless of their sect, national origin and political persuasion should be used to address the many critical problems that today confront the world of Islam.
Though the Saudi authorities that oversee Haj frown on any political activity during the pilgrimage — and there have been numerous incidents where Saudi forces have confronted mainly Iranian pilgrims for holding protests — the forum of Haj can certainly be used in a constructive way to address social, political and economic issues facing the Muslim world.
Indeed, in these times of global tumult, there are many challenges confronting the followers of Islam, whether living in Muslim-majority states, or in non-Muslim societies. Topping the agenda are crises such as Kashmir, Palestine and Yemen.
In India-held Kashmir, Delhi has unleashed a fresh wave of brutality after doing away with the region’s special constitutional status. Indian excesses have been continuing against the Kashmiris for decades, but many economically powerful Muslim states — particularly the petrodollar-fuelled Arab sheikhdoms — have rarely shown an inclination to highlight Kashmir’s plight internationally.
Pakistan, it seems, is the only one raising its voice for IHK’s people. In Palestine, Israel continues to devour Arab land and trample over the Palestinians. Shown the green light by the US, Tel Aviv has grown even more confident about illegally annexing Arab land in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan. Unfortunately, here too the Arab monarchies have turned their backs on the desperate Palestinians, and are in fact reaching out to Israel.
As for Yemen, dubbed the worst humanitarian crisis in the world by the UN, a fruitless war continues to be fought between the Yemeni government, backed by Arab states and the West, and the Houthi rebels. In the meantime, thousands of Yemenis continue to die in the crossfire, starve to death, or fall victim to disease.
Moreover, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have not subsided, threatening to increase sectarian fissures across the Muslim world should this rivalry enter a more confrontational phase. Also, millions of Syrian refugees await the return of peace in their homeland, while the Rohingya still dread returning to Myanmar.
Haj offers a perfect opportunity — and democratic environment — where Muslim leaders and common believers can discuss ways out of these multiple crises.
With so much suffering across the Muslim world, simple statements of regret by toothless bodies such as the OIC are not enough. The spirit of unity that Haj demands can help evolve more practical solutions.
As we in relatively peaceful environments reflect over the message of Haj and celebrate Eid with our loved ones, let us not forget the millions across the world suffering from death, disease, poverty and war.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019