It was fascinating to watch the different behavior of various pilgrims in Mecca……. The black Africans managed to look relaxed even in the ihram, thanks to their athletic build, their way of walking coupled with the fact that they used the upper cloth as a scarf sometimes, draping it around their necks with an almost dandy air. The Afghans benefited from laying aside their intimidating robes – now their regular features and bright eyes were shown to advantage. The moment they pulled on their local garments their proud bearing returned, they stood up taller, feet wide apart, two heads higher thanks to their turbans. They kissed and embraced one another in elaborate rituals – the expression of a connection that went beyond Islam. In absolute contrast to the Afghans were the Indonesians, the largest Muslim population in the world, and perhaps the friendliest… the Indonesians were reserved, gentle, and discreet; they were soft-spoken, and their diminutive height seemed part of their good manners: they never blocked one’s view….
Mecca is a town steeped in history, and yet one with no ancient buildings. Its history is not merely ignored by the prevailing teachings – it is regarded as dangerous. In an amnesia that enjoys an official stamp, believers are to pay no heed to the developments and decisions made in the 14 centuries since the Prophet (pbuh) and the Sahabah lived, but to trust only the Qur’an and ahadith, and, as a pilgrim to visit only the Kaaba – which is an artefact that goes beyond history. The desire to see the sites of the stories of the Prophet’s (pbuh) passion and revelation is regarded as destructive tourism. The Saudis have destroyed what was believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet (pbuh) and consigned the burial spot to anonymity. …..Likewise, Mecca is a cultural centre which has been drained of its culture. Theatre and music are frowned upon, of course, but the public baths and the coffee houses have also gone….. In the bookshops, the great Arabian thinkers of the past, and present, are nowhere to be found….the Saudi interpretation [of the Qur’an] often differs considerably from the classical ones.
Pilgrims from Istanbul, Damascus and Cairo regard the Saudis as parvenus, nouveau-riche, and lacking in civilization. And the Saudis do their utmost to live up to this assessment through their rude and coarse behavior.
During the first capture of Medina by the Wahhabis 200 years ago, the treasures of the Grand Mosque were stolen, supposedly to be shared amongst the poor, but the leader, Saud, sold parts of it to the Sharif of Mecca, retaining the lion’s share for himself. Although the Prophet’s (pbuh) commandments are meant to be followed at all times, certain ahadith are postulated as fundamental principles, while others are simply ignored. One hadith states, for example, that one should not build a house substantially bigger than one’s neighbour’s so that he does not feel humiliated, and yet the immense palace of the king in Mecca dwarves not only the neighbouring buildings but even the House of God.
Another hadith says: pay those who have worked for you before the sweat on their brow has dried. Yet Saudi Arabian employees continue to owe wages to foreign workers who come in their hundreds and thousands from the poorer regions of the Islamic World…..
And the high life of the Saudi elite break another very well known hadith: ‘Allah despises those who squander their wealth.’
Wahhabi Islam, referred to ….as ‘fundamentalism’, doesn’t even correspond in its rudiments to the holistic programme of Islam. Neither the absolutist monarchy nor the totalitarian suppression of free expression can find any justification in the Qur’an. The sovereign elite keep tight control of the laws, but if it suits their interests they will also turn a blind eye….. But because they keep the holy sites clean and accessible, constantly improving the infrastructure while ensuring the Hajj is less dangerous and more just, the hosts often receive a great deal of approval. ….The Saudis take their role as guardians of the holy mosques and sites very seriously, and shy away from no investment that could result in a safer and more comfortable Hajj. And thus gratitude is as commonly expressed as criticism.
In Mina, as in Mecca, there are hardly any beggars, but the few that were there, were Indians (‘The Indians, always extreme,’ Richard Burton wrote, ‘are either beggars or millionaires’) Up until a few years ago beggars from India were imported especially for Ramadan so that the prescribed generosity for that month wouldn’t fail for lack of recipients. The beggars were apparently professionals….they had to hand over their alms to receive a wage in return……