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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.

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