Calls are growing for Muslims around the world including some in Australia to boycott the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which is one of the central pillars of Islam.
SBS News reported on Sunday that the main reason behind the widely-urged boycott is Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The war has killed more than 60,000 Yemenis since January 2016, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization based in the United States.
Going to the Hajj at least once in life is considered a religious obligation by many for the Muslims who are healthy enough and financially able.
More than 2.3 million Muslims from around the world are expected to descend on the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia next month to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The Hajj and Umrah, which cost thousands of dollars per person depending on the pilgrim’s nationality, make up almost 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s non-oil-related GDP.
Other motives for Muslims to turn their backs on the annual holy pilgrimage to Mecca are the slaughter of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and Riyadh’s aggressive approach to the Iran crisis.
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post and a fierce critic of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, was killed on October 2, 2018. According to a report by the newspaper, the CIA had concluded that his death was personally ordered by bin Salman.
Sydney-based aspiring filmmaker Faraaz Rahman argues that Muslims are not morally responsible for going to Hajj at the moment.
He told SBS News that going for Hajj would financially contribute to the Saudi regime that is carrying out “mass atrocities in Yemen against fellow Muslims.”
“This is not what the Hajj is meant to be about,” the 31-year-old added.
“Now, prominent leaders are calling for it [boycott]. I hope that that leads to other religious authorities to pick up and make similar calls,” Rahman further stated.
While calling for a boycott of the Hajj was a drastic step, it was necessary, indicated another Australian Muslim based in Melbourne, who didn’t want his name to be published.
“If the money is funneling into the Saudi economy and that money is being utilized to imposing continuous misery on the people of Yemen, then people have a moral, religious obligation to stand up.
“I believe there is no other option left for the Muslim people around the world than to boycott Saudi Arabia, to give them the message that this madness [in Yemen] should end,” he underlined.
In April Libya’s Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani appealed to Muslims around the world to abstain from traveling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage due to the country’s human rights abuses.
He argued that the kingdom uses Hajj revenues to commit crimes against fellow Muslims.
He even claimed that anyone who goes on a second pilgrimage was conducting “an act of sin rather than a good deed.”
Although he is one of the most prominent Sunni Muslim leaders to call for the boycott, he is not the first.
“Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick, and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the Hajj,” Yusuf al-Qaradawi, another Sunni cleric and vocal critic of Saudi Arabia, said during a fatwa last August.
In some Muslim majority countries, the social media hashtag #BoycottHajj has trended on Twitter.
Ani Zonneveld, president of the Muslims for Progressive Values, a US-based organization with around 10,000 members, said they are encouraging all Muslims to join the boycott.
“For Muslims to be going to the Hajj to cleanse their souls and to reconnect with God … by doing so they will be supporting a regime that has done nothing but oppress and create famine in Yemen. It is really hard to reconcile,” she noted.
Mukhriz Mat Rus, a 36-year-old university lecturer based in Kuala Lumpur told SBS News that although he had previously registered his interest in going to Hajj with the Malaysian authorities to be placed on a waitlist, he has decided not to go.
Holding forth that taking a stand on human rights is also an act of faith.
“Some people say put aside politics, but I don’t think I am able to reconcile that,” he said.
Adel Salman, the vice president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said that while he understood why a number of Muslims around the world were calling for the boycott of Hajj, he doesn’t personally support it.
“It is understandable that people will hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the suffering and the crimes that are being committed in that country [Yemen].
“But most Muslims would see it as a completing of their religious obligations and they would dissociate completely with issues of politics or the Saudi government,” he elaborated.
Citing two Hajj tourism operators in Australia, SBS News reported that a drop in bookings for this year’s pilgrimage has not been experienced yet.
The United Nations officials have defined the situation in Yemen as “the worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time.”
Nearly 3.2 million Yemenis including two million children are in urgent need of treatment for acute malnutrition caused by the crisis, according to UN data.
The death toll in Yemen is also expected to reach 230,000 by 2020 due to the indiscriminate airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, the targets of which include hospitals, funerals, children’s school buses, and weddings.