The Hajj and the Apartheid Train: Where Is the Muslim Outrage?
- By Ziyad Motala
- Published 12/13/2010
A pivotal theme in current Islamic political discourse is a demand for justice, a key tenet of the Quran. A popular complaint in Islamic political argument is discrimination against Muslims in the west such as the ban of the veil in European countries, minarets in Switzerland or racial profiling in many western countries. Unfortunately, there is a conspicuous lack of looking inwards to practices within Muslim countries. Muslims from all over the world have just completed the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj represents a critical pillar of Islam and is supposed to represent a universal gathering of Muslims, which transcends race, ethnicity, color or any other distinction. Muslims are supposed to meet in the sacred precincts surrounding the holy city of Mecca as equals wearing the same simple clothing meant to symbolize perfect brotherhood, where individuals or groups do not see themselves as separate entities and differences of lineage, tribe or race have no bearing.
The experiences of the Hajj are very different depending on which part of the world you originate from. If you hail from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, you will perform the hajj in relative luxury and privilege, which is denied to Muslims from the sub-continent, Africa or the rest of the world. Those from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have a different Hajj based on luxurious accommodations, and preferential treatment in performing the rituals. The latest egregious practice is the high-speed rail service, which transports the pilgrims from Mecca to the sacred sites where the rituals of the Hajj are performed. The train is reserved only for Saudis and citizens from the Gulf countries. Citizens from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries can be transported to the holy sites within a few minutes. For others, they will have to take the bus or walk which could take many hours each day. I cannot think of any other place in the world today that practices such crass racism. Imagine a train in the United States that states no Arabs -- just people from the west -- can ride in. The real tragedy is the lack of outrage from Muslims.
The Hajj as a gathering of Muslims, based on equality, simplicity and brotherhood is a fiction. The Hajj is a gigantic money making endeavor. All visits to the holy place have to take place under the auspices of a Saudi institution or company, which is totally Saudi-owned. Every opportunity is geared towards profit maximization. The Saudi companies in turn enter into agreements with parties in the local country where the pilgrim resides. The Saudi company takes care of the negotiation with the local hotels and other parties to organize and pay for the accommodations and internal transportation and the like. Saudis have profited greatly from the pilgrims who have been exploited on a scale that is beyond imagination. A two week visit to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj period (if you are not sponsored) in modest accommodations costs more than a month-long world tour (not counting the fact that for five days during the two week period, the pilgrim is staying in a tent). Imagine the outrage if a Saudi was told that he could not do business in the United States (including booking a hotel) except though a United States entity?
Saudi Arabia represents one of the worse examples of a stratified
society at the apex of which sits the descendants of its founder Ibn
Saud constituted in the current royal family. And then appears a pecking
order based on lineage or clan and others recognized as Saudi. Then
come hundreds of thousands of individuals (including second and third
generation Saudi born), followed by hundreds of thousands of foreign