Editorial: A hugely successful Haj

Updated 10 October 2016

Editorial: A hugely successful Haj

This year’s Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam, has been an outstanding success. In five days, 1.8 million pilgrims who came from all over the world performed their religious rites. These guests of Allah enjoyed the experience of a lifetime in peace and safety. They left with unreserved praise for the Kingdom’s hospitality. This included Iranians. They said the regime in Tehran had been completely wrong to criticize the Kingdom’s Haj arrangements.
The Haj is about unity. This means it is completely wrong to try and use the occasion to foment division. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman made this point forcefully when he greeted foreign dignitaries at the royal court in Mina. He said it was unacceptable to try and politicize this great ritual. It should never be used to express ideological differences. It could not become a platform for promoting sectarian disputes.
He reminded his guests that Islam is the religion of peace, justice, brotherhood, love and benevolence. He pointed to the tragic divisions and rivalries in the Muslim world. Every effort was needed to resolve these conflicts and create unity. And the Haj is the highest expression of that unity.
King Salman’s words were echoed in the Haj sermon. Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque, urged Muslim leaders to work together to solve the many challenges confronting the Ummah. He addressed the horror of terrorism head-on. Terrorism, he said, does not belong to any religion or nation. He too urged unity. He also warned about deviant ideologies. He reminded parents, teachers and scholars of their responsibilities. They should protect young people from deceptive messages.
The success of this year’s Haj has been a failure for the Iranian leadership. They tried to make a political issue out it. They ignored the wishes of their own people. They frustrated the ambitions of thousands of would-be Iranian pilgrims. Religious duty cannot be conflated with politics. The political maneuverings from Tehran brought nothing but discredit on the regime. They sought to promote division at a time when they should have been fostering unity. And they failed. Those Iranian pilgrims who made it to the Kingdom had nothing but praise for the welcome they received and nothing but deep happiness for the spiritual experience.
One of these Iranians was making his 10th Haj. He was well placed to remark upon the arrangements, which the Iranian government had so condemned. His view was clear. Every time he had performed Haj he had found the welcome as warm as ever. And on each pilgrimage, he had noticed a further improvement in the facilities. This year had been no exception.
The Kingdom has spared no expense. Billions of riyals have been spent on enhancing facilities which are used primarily for just five days of the year. The work to make the Haj better never stops. There is no effort too great to prepare for welcoming the guests of Allah.
The Haj is the world’s greatest expression of unity. But that unity goes deeper than many imagine. The reason this colossal event has once again been such a success lies with the organizers. It is their unity of purpose which lies behind the Kingdom’s remarkable achievement.
The work for this year’s Haj began even as the final pilgrims were leaving last year. It is not possible to understate the complexity and extent of the task. It begins with a hard-headed assessment of the Haj just past. What did not go as well as planned? What improvements, even minor tweaks can be made? Are there still bottle necks in the moving tide of pilgrims? How well were people care for? Did the health and ambulance services perform as expected? Was there enough water? Was it easy for pilgrims to get information? Was there enough individual assistance, particularly from the hard-working volunteers from the scouts?
This year there were an astonishing 200,000 people on hand to care for the visitors. These included security men as well as Haj providers. The safety of the ritual has always been a prime concern. But the specter of terrorist attack looms far higher these days. Throughout their Haj, most pilgrims could not have imagined the extent to which they were guarded and protected. The most advanced technology was deployed to ensure their safety. The regime in Tehran of course would have liked nothing more than some sort of disruption. Sadly, this is hardly the attitude of Muslims who ought to be wishing nothing but success to the Haj.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.