If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent
An aerial view shows an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque on March 6, 2020. (Photo by Bandar Aldandani / AFP)
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Updated 01 August 2020

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent
  • Saudi minister's remarks have called into question viability of this year's Hajj amid coronavirus crisis
  • The annual Islamic pilgrimage has a history of disruptions and cancellations going back centuries

JEDDAH: Will the Hajj, which draws millions of Muslims annually to Islam’s birthplace in Saudi Arabia, be suspended this year owing to the global coronavirus pandemic?
That question had been uppermost in the minds of millions of Muslims worldwide even before a Saudi official asked them to put on hold any plans to perform the obligatory pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July.
“We’ve asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait” before making Hajj plans “until there’s clarity,” Dr. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, minister of Hajj and Umrah, told state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV in comments on March 31 that quickly bounced around the world.
He added: “We've asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has taken the whole gamut of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19 infection in Makkah and Madinah, yet a total of more than 480 active cases have been reported in the two holy cities so far.
Last month, the Kingdom suspended the Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely, and blocked the entry and exit to several cities, including Makkah and Madinah.
There have been 25 deaths reported among more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia.

Globally, more than 1,000,000 people have been infected and nearly 59,000 of them have died.
Against this backdrop, a decision to suspend the Hajj may seem at once inevitable and unprecedented.
In actual fact, the pilgrimage has experienced disruptions through the centuries due to circumstances beyond the control of Hajj authorities.
According to a report published by the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah), the first time the Hajj was interrupted was in 930 AD when the Qarmatians, a syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shiite Islam that revolted against the Abbasid Caliphate, attacked pilgrims on the eighth day of Hajj.
The report says the Qarmatians, convinced that performing the Hajj was an act of idolatry, killed more than 30,000 pilgrims that year, desecrated Makkah’s Zamzam well with corpses, and ran off with the Black Stone of the Kaaba back to Hajr (Qatif nowadays), their capital on the Arabian Gulf at that time.
On account of the bloody assault, the Hajj was not performed for another 10 years, according to the Darah report.
The next disruption happened in 968 AD, says the report, citing Ibn Kathir’s book “Al-Bidaya wan-Nihayah.” It said a disease spread inside Makkah and claimed the lives of many pilgrims.

The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘If you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it.’

At the same time, camels used for transporting pilgrims to Makkah died owing to a scarcity of water.
“Many of those who managed to reach Makkah safely could not live long after Hajj for the same reason,” according to the Darah report
Among those who came to Makkah to perform the Hajj in significant numbers were Egyptians.
But in 1000 AD, they could not afford to undertake the journey because of the high cost of living in the country that year.
Some 29 years later, no pilgrims from the East or Egypt came for the Hajj. According to the Darah report, in 1030 only a few Iraqi pilgrims managed to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
Nine years later, Iraqi, Egyptian, Central Asian and north Arabian Muslims were unable to perform the Hajj.
Dr. Emad Taher, head of the history department at King Abdul Aziz University, said the reason was political unrest and sectarian tensions.
Similarly, no one performed the Hajj in 1099 owing to fear and insecurity across the Muslim world as a result of wars.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Some five years before the Crusaders seized Jerusalem in 1099, lack of unity among Muslim rulers of the Arab region meant that no Muslims could manage to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
In 1168, Egyptians found themselves locked in confrontation with Kurdish Commander Asaduddin Shirkuh, who was hoping to extend the Zangid dynasty to Egypt. The situation naturally did not allow Egyptians to perform the Hajj.
The pilgrimage was again disrupted in the 13th century. The Darah report says no people from outside the Hijaz region could perform the Hajj between 1256 and1260.
French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria from 1798 to 1801 made the standard routes to Makkah unsafe for pilgrims.
More than two centuries on, a global pandemic has cast a huge shadow of uncertainty on the Islamic pilgrimage.
Hani Nasira, an Egyptian academic and writer, said if COVID-19 cases worldwide continue to increase, a decision to halt the Hajj should come as no surprise.
“If imposed, such a decision will be wise and in full compliance with the Islamic Shariah, which basically aims to protect and preserve peoples’ lives,” he told Arab News.
“In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says, ‘and do not kill yourselves.’ Also, the Prophet Muhammad warned his companions against epidemics.




Muslims visit the Kaaba during a pilgrimage to Makkah in 1954. (AP)

“Abdulrahman bin Awf narrated that the Prophet Muhammad had said, ‘if you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; but if that epidemic breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.’ This Hadith shows the significance of avoiding plagues.”
Nasira noted that the COVID-19 outbreak has claimed thousands of lives across the world and shows no sign of abating.
“The whole world is suffering from the swift spread of the coronavirus, which has filled people everywhere with unprecedented dread,” he told Arab News.
“With scientists having little information about the virus, a cure isn’t likely to come out soon, so the continuation of the situation makes suspending the Hajj necessary to protect lives.”
Nasira drew attention to the fact that some Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, are among the biggest casualties of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to add fuel to the fire. It’s illogical, and Islam also never accepts or approves that. If I were a mufti, I wouldn’t hesitate to call for a suspension,” he said.
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a researcher of Islamic studies, pointed out that the Hajj is not a limited ritual in the sense that it can be carried out at least once in the lifetime of an adult Muslim.
“Performing the Hajj isn’t limited to a specific time. An adult Muslim can perform the Hajj whenever he or she likes once they’ve reached the age of discretion,” he told Arab News.
“Prophet Muhammad, for instance, didn’t perform the pilgrimage in the first year the Hajj became a duty. He made his Hajj a year later,” said Al-Ghamdi, who specializes in Hadith and Islamic sciences. Like Nasira, he maintains that Islamic Shariah strongly backs public interest and wellbeing.
“In case of dire necessity, such as because of the spread of the coronavirus disease, political reasons or security compulsions, the Hajj can be suspended and this doesn’t contradict Islamic teachings,” Al-Ghamdi said. “The Almighty has ordered us to not expose ourselves to danger.”
Moreover, Al-Ghamdi said, the Hajj is founded in reason and logic, so if health officials find that a contagious sickness can cause deaths, preserving people’s lives is more important than the pilgrimage itself. “Nothing is wrong with this line of reasoning in Islamic Shariah,” he added.

 


Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 April 2021

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The Arab coalition destroyed five ballistic missiles and four explosive-laden drones launched by Houthis toward Saudi Arabia, Al-Ekhbariya reported on Thursday.
The attacks targeting Jazan are the latest in a long line of hostile actions against the Kingdom by the Iran-back Houthi militia. 
Jazan University was one of the targets as well as other civilian sites protected under international humanitarian law, coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said in a statement on the Saudi Press Agency, adding that the actions amount to war crimes.
The attacks originated from Sa’dah governorate in Yemen, Al-Malki added.
The coalition said the attack is a continuation of the Houthis’ systematic and intentional hostile attempts to target civilians. 
The Houthis, who took over the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, in 2014, have been condemned for their actions against the Kingdom. 
The Saudi government has said the Houthi attacks are not only against the  Kingdom and its economic facilities, but rather the center of the global economy, the security of its exports and its oil supplies, while also affecting maritime navigation.

Saudi Arabia has consistently backed efforts to resolved the war in Yemen peacefully.
Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman held talks with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and reiterated that the Kingdom supports “all efforts to end the conflict, implement a cease-fire, alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and reach a political resolution that guarantees peace and prosperity for the brotherly people of Yemen.”
In March, Saudi Arabia announce a peace initiative to help end a war that has ravaged Yemen for the last six years. The initiative, which has received wide support, includes a cease-fire supervised by the UN, the reopening of Sanaa airport, and new talks to reach a political resolution to the conflict. Restrictions on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah would also be eased, allowing access for ships and cargo.
The UN’s chief, Antonio Guterres, backed the deal and urged all sides to take this opportunity to pursue peace and work with his special envoy, Martin Griffiths, on ways to proceed “in good faith and without preconditions.”


Yemen’s information minister, Moammar Al-Eryani, said members of the international community with open channels to the Houthis must use their leverage to encourage it to sever ties with Iran and commit to the Saudi-led peace initiative.
“These countries must put pressure on the Houthis to stop their daily crimes and violations against civilians in their areas of control, which are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Al-Eryani told Arab News in an interview last week.
A Yemeni news agency reported last month that the Houthis had “provisionally” accepted the Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen, but were demanding unchecked flights from Sanaa airport to unlimited destinations before giving the peace plan their final approval.
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Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden
  • In addition to providing artificial limbs, the facility will also offer maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services and physiotherapy

LONDON: The Saudi-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) has officially opened an artificial limbs clinic in the Yemeni city of Aden, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

Qasim Buhaibeh, the Yemeni minister of public health and population, thanked KSrelief for its work to help the Yemeni people. He also praised the achievement of establishing the prosthetic limb facility, which he said “will contribute to providing medical services and alleviating the suffering of those who are injured and the victims of mines.”

Saleh Al-Dibani, the director of KSrelief in Aden, said the organization has provided the prosthetic limb center with the resources it needs to help 1,434 beneficiaries, including 300 new prosthetic limbs.

A KSrelief worker is seen with young patients at the new prosthetic limb center in Aden. (SPA)

He added that KSrelief is also providing resources for maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services, physiotherapy, and to hire medical staff in coordination with the Yemeni Ministry of Health.

“The project of equipping and preparing artificial limbs is one of the most important projects funded by KSrelief in the governorates of Aden, Taiz, Seiyun and Marib, with the aim of supporting the Yemeni health sector,” said Al-Dibani.

The center is part of the framework of humanitarian and relief efforts being provided by Saudi Arabia, through KSrelief, to the Yemeni people.


Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

RIYADH: The Asbar Center for Studies, Research and Communications announced the launch of the Asbar Observatory on Development, the first of its kind in monitoring and anticipating future development in the Kingdom.
Established in 1994, the Asbar Center is a scientific organization dedicated to conducting studies and research on development and policies.
Dr. Fahad Al-Orabi Al-Harthi, president of the Asbar Center, said the new observatory is one of the center’s initiatives. 
“The idea of launching the observatory comes within the framework of the center’s efforts to keep pace with developments witnessed in various fields in the Kingdom, in order to achieve its ambitious Vision 2030,” he said.
Through the observatory, Al-Harthi noted, the Asbar Center seeks to build a national system that contributes, in cooperation with the responsible authorities, to monitoring development needs and providing information to authorities.
Al-Harthi also said the observatory will assist decision-makers in shaping life in Saudi Arabia and anticipating its future through foresight tools. In preparation for a pioneering developmental journey that supports changes, the observatory will also anticipate future opportunities and challenges by analyzing their effects and developing innovative solutions to them.
“The mechanism of the Asbar Observatory project relies on the work of local and international development indicators,” Al-Harthi said.
“The observatory will focus on monitoring development and issuing reports to the competent authorities on progress, social innovation, sustainable development and social responsibility. It will also issue future forward-looking studies.”
Al-Harthi said he hopes the Asbar Observatory will enhance the Kingdom’s presence in various global fields while maintaining its distinguished international position.


Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king

Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king
Updated 15 April 2021

Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king

Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king

RIYADH: King Salman on Thursday appointed Prince Mishaal bin Majed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as adviser to the king, with the rank of minister, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Prince Mishaal has been governor of Jeddah since 1997 and a member of the Allegiance Council since 2007. 

He is president of the governing council of the assembly and president of the Social Development Forum and chairman of the board of the Society of Majid bin Abdul Aziz for Development and Social Services.


Beggars exploit charitable sentiment during Ramadan

Beggars exploit charitable sentiment during Ramadan
Updated 15 April 2021

Beggars exploit charitable sentiment during Ramadan

Beggars exploit charitable sentiment during Ramadan
  • Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has warned citizens to be wary and recommends using the proper channels to give to charity

JEDDAH: A surge in beggars has been witnessed across Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of the holy month and the acts of charity obligatory upon Muslims.

The scene is not new to residents of the Kingdom. For years, beggars who have arrived illegally through various means such as smuggling, originally from areas such as Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen — and even local citizens — have roamed the streets asking for money.

Migrant smuggling, the irregular movement of people through international borders, is one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities and has been an issue in the Kingdom for years. The situation dramatically worsened after the Houthis, the Iran-backed militia group, gained power in Yemen, and thousands of people have tried to escape into the Kingdom from the improvised nation.

On the rugged mountain terrain of the Saudi-Yemen border, criminals are smuggled into the Kingdom, more often than not finding their way into major cities and using various ploys to grab people’s attention and money. 

The spirit of giving is prevalent during Ramadan, when Muslims undertake acts of kindness. Giving money is the simplest form of charity but many beggars have been found to be part of an organized gang, mobilizing children, infants and old men and women to do their work.

HIGHLIGHT

Illegal immigrants also poses a security challenge. Some illegal immigrants have been implicated in criminal activities such as smuggling weapons and narcotics, and have committed crimes such as theft, espionage or subversive acts that threaten national security. This is a global issue that many countries have been struggling with. 

All-too familiar scenes — of disheveled-looking young men in torn dirty clothes, barefoot children standing under the scorching sun and walking on unbearably hot pavements, babies passed out in their prams with heavily covered women pushing them between cars or idly waiting at traffic stops without concern for the harm exhaust smoke can do to their health — seem to double during Ramadan.

Such sights may grab people’s attention, prompting them to give a few riyals intended to satisfy the beggars and encourage them to get off the streets — only to find them returned to the same spot the next day.

“These scenes are all too familiar,” one resident, Afaf Al-Ghamdi, said. “I pass by the same streets going to and from work, and everyday I see the same woman with different babies just walking between the cars. It’s heartbreaking to see, but we’re heeding the warnings and we need to stop encouraging them. Organized crime is real and it’s no excuse nowadays not to perform an act of charity safely.”

Though the act itself might seem harmless to some, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has warned citizens to be wary and recommends using the proper channels to give to charity, with many applications and platforms now available to do so.

As Saudi Arabia continues to make positive improvements toward its digital transformation goals by increasing the efficiency of e-services, the General Authority for Zakat and Tax’s (GAZT) application, “Zakaty,” had made giving easier and safer. In its fourth year, GAZT has made Zakaty available through a website and a call center. More than SR40 million ($10.6 million) was collected last Ramadan, which social security beneficiaries registered at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development benefited from.

Illegal immigrants also poses a security challenge. Some illegal immigrants have been implicated in criminal activities such as smuggling weapons and narcotics, and have committed crimes such as theft, espionage or subversive acts that threaten national security. This is a global issue that many countries have been struggling with. 

Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib said that smuggling was a form of organized crime run by networks that could have grave security, health, economic and social implications for society.

The penalty for smugglers, or those involved in facilitating the illegal entry or movement of illegal migrants, will be a sentence of no less than 15 years in jail, a fine of up to SR1 million ($266,000) and confiscation of vehicles or property intended to transport or house them.