Excellent relationship with Saudi Arabia augurs well for Hajj, Umrah pilgrims from India

Updated 20 February 2019

Excellent relationship with Saudi Arabia augurs well for Hajj, Umrah pilgrims from India

  • Last year, a record 175,000 of them traveled to Makkah for Hajj

NEW DELHI: Prominent Muslims in India have told Arab News the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has redefined their relationship with Riyadh.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to use the country’s fast-growing economy to attract more investment from Islamic nations, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Muslims make up 14 percent of India’s population. Last year, a record 175,000 of them traveled to Makkah for Hajj.

Zafarul Islam Khan, the chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, said he hoped stronger bilateral ties would be an advantage for Muslims.

“Muslims in India go to Saudi for Hajj and Umrah, and a good relationship between New Delhi and Riyadh assures we will be treated well and given respect,” he said. 

He added that the crown prince had sparked a lot of curiosity with his reform measures — aimed at diversifying the economy and opening up the Kingdom culturally — and that people in India, particularly Muslims, were keen to see what deals and agreements would be signed during his visit.

“Muslims in India think very highly of the Saudi-Indian relationship,” said Khan. “The process of redefining the India and Saudi Arabia relationship started long ago. Now what is happening is the consolidation.”

Andalib Akhtar, a New Delhi-based journalist and editor of The Indian Awaz, described the crown prince’s visit as special.

“For any Muslim, it’s a dream to go to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj or Umrah,” she said. 

“It is also a destination for many Indians who seek employment.”

According to Pew Research Center data, India is the world’s top recipient of migrant remittances. Almost $69 billion was sent back to the country in 2015 and $10.5 billion of this sum was from Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Tasleem Ahmed Rehmani, from the Muslim Political Council of India, said Saudi Arabia’s reputation for promoting a conservative form of Islam had changed in recent years. 

“The crown prince’s reformist measures have been received positively in the country,” he told Arab News, adding that Saudi Arabia had previously been considered close to Pakistan but that it was now regarded as “a great ally and very dependable strategic partner.”

Shaukat Azam, a university student in the eastern Indian city of Patna, said Saudi Arabia should invest in modern schools in India rather than building more seminaries and mosques.

“The Saudis have been building madrasahs (seminaries) and mosques for a long time now. It is time that investment is made in constructing modern schools and colleges,” he told Arab News.

He also said Muslim families depended on earnings from their relatives working in the Kingdom, and that Saudi Arabia was a “savior” for many.

“I have heard a lot about the crown prince and I hope his visit will not only redefine his relations with the country but also with the Muslim population in general.”

Shabuddin Yaqub, a media professional, said Muslims in India owed a lot to Riyadh.

“Almost 200,000 people go for Hajj in Saudi Arabia every year, plus many go for Umrah,” he told Arab News. “Indian Muslims get good respect in Saudi Arabia.”


An ongoing debate: Shops closing for prayer in Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 January 2020

An ongoing debate: Shops closing for prayer in Saudi Arabia

  • The issue has been under discussion in many settings among members of Saudi society as of late

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has recently announced allowing commercial activities to function for 24 hours, in a new string of promised boosts of business and provide services for all. While the change solves many problems, such as congestion and loss of potential income, many Saudis still debate whether or not it will include the custom of shops closing during prayer time, five times a day. 

A custom that has uniquely defined Saudi Arabia among all Muslim countries, which typically require shops to close only during the weekly Friday prayers, this practice has long been discussed and disputed in society. 

For over 30 years, commercial businesses in Saudi Arabia have shut and locked their doors as soon as the first call of prayer is heard. Cars would queue waiting petrol stations to open, pharmacies were closed, restaurants and supermarkets as well with patrons and visitors forced to wait outside in a manner deemed inconvenient to most people. Prior to the recent reforms which have checked the powers of the now regulated Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), or religious police as they were commonly known, officers of the CPVPV had the power to arrest and punish shopkeepers for even delaying closing their stores for a few minutes. Punishments ranged from detention, lashing and even deportation if the shop attendant was not Saudi. 

The debate to keep shops and businesses open has been a topic of discussion in many settings amongst members of Saudi society as of late. From Shoura Council members, to businessmen and women and everyday ordinary citizens, with many wondering if the law would stand for all hours of the day.

However, the bigger question is being asked by a new generation of the country’s youth, which form the majority of the population of the Kingdom: Why is it that Saudi Arabia is the only country that enforced this kind of practice, as opposed to just Friday prayers? 

Executive regulations

In 1987, the executive regulations of the CPVPV were issued by the General President of the commission, and the second paragraph of the first article cited the following: “As prayer is the pillar of religion and its hiatus, then the members of the commission must ensure its performance at the specified times in mosques, and urge people to promptly respond to the call for prayer, and they must ensure that shops and stores are closed, and that sales are not done during prayer time.”

Speaking to Arab News, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, the former director of the CPVPV in Makkah, said that the document allowed members of the religious police to take the necessary measures, and many opted to apply what should have only been applicable to Friday prayers to all prayers of the day. 

“This second paragraph of the first article of the Commission’s executive regulations was a discretionary procedure that was not based on a system, as the executive regulations of the Commission are issued by the General President of CPVPV, and its body system does not oblige closing shops during prayer times,” said Al-Ghamdi. “It became a practice that has been established by the Commission, according to the second paragraph of the first article without relying on an established order.”

Dr. Issa Al-Ghaith, a judge, Islamic scholar, a member of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council and the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue, has spoken about the matter a number of times. In a recent article published in Makkah newspaper on Jan. 1, 2020, Dr. Al-Ghaith explained that there is no religious or legal base.

“There is no legal base for closing shops for prayer after amending the bylaws of the authority, noting that forcing shops to close their doors and people to pray right at the beginning of prayer time, and to do this in a mosque, stands no ground neither in Shariah nor in law,” said Dr. Al-Ghaith.

“It is rather a breach of both of them, and an infringement on people’s religious rights (right of Ijtihad and freedom to follow a reference) and worldly rights (freedom of movement, shopping, benefitting of services round the clock without being forced to abide by judicial matters subject to conflict and differences).”

Dr. Issa Al-Ghaith

Religion and laws aside though, it seems there is no clear verdict within society on whether or not the practice of closing shops during prayer times should continue or not.

Speaking to Arab News, a number of female retail workers at one of Jeddah’s biggest shopping malls told of the benefit of closing shops during prayer times. The group of females who requested to stay anonymous told Arab News that it’s not all that it seems to be when shops close.

“Many believe we actually take a break and lounge around for the 20-40 minutes when stores close for prayer times. Rarely do we have that freedom to be honest,” said 25-year-old S.K., a Saudi working in the store for 7 months now. “The mess that customers leave behind is too much to handle during regular open store hours so we take advantage of the time we have and reorganize the store, clean up and replace all clothes on the racks.”

“I agree with my colleague,” said 29-year-old M.A. “We don’t mind the closing hours as things get really hectic especially on holidays and as you can see now during the sale. So we do take the opportunity sometimes and either try to relax in the quiet before we finish whatever it is we need done during that time. We understand people’s frustrations but it helps us.”

“I don’t have the luxury of time unfortunately,” said Rawan Zahid, a mother of three girls and a worker at a private company. “I live close to an hour away from my office and my youngest is 4 months old so I don’t have the luxury of time to go shop after work as the call for Maghreb (sunset) prayers are called and I would rather go home and spend some time with my daughters.”

While juggling her job and family life, Zahid believes that it’s difficult to sustain this for long. “It’s unreasonable in my opinion,” Zahid said. “I think it’s too much of a burden on many people especially those who work long hours of the day. For those who don’t have help to care for their children, it’s very difficult to run simple errands and it’s extremely tiresome.”