By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
22 September 2015
It was indeed distressing news that scores of Hajis (Muslim pilgrims) died and dozens were injured when a crane collapsed inside the Grand Mosque in Makkah amid strong winds and heavy rains. As many as 111 died and 238 people have been injured, according to the latest media reports. The accident occurred as the kingdom prepared to welcome around 3 million people to the Ka’ba, the holiest Islamic city, for the annual pilgrimage that began on 21st September. Of late, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman has ordered massive payouts for the families of those killed and injured in the tragedy.
Casualties apart, this incident came as a strong reminder of introspection for the Saudi government as well the mainstream Muslims of the world who cherish to perform the Hajj annually. Indeed, it was a natural tragedy. You might face baffling problems at some packed places in every massive religious gathering, but still you would not be miffed up with the great hardships in them. However, it is not wise to overlook the acute problems that pop up in every Hajj gathering. Every year, the situation becomes more and more grim, and it is now reaching the point where finding solutions to these problems will be an absolute necessity. Merely ordering massive payouts for the families of victims would not suffice. It would be an opportune time to discuss and try to rectify all the Hajj-related problems that should be taken into serious consideration.
First and foremost, there are many rulings pertaining to the observance of the Hajj that need to be revised in the context of the Islamic jurisprudential principle of lessening the difficulties (Raf’ul Haraj) and making things easy (Daf’ul Haraj). The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “Make things easy; do not make them difficult. Convey glad tidings and do not scare people off.” (Sahih al-Bukhari: 69 and Sahih Muslim: 1734) He also said, when asked about various circumstances in the Hajj: “Do so. There is no harm.” (Sahih al-Bukhari: 83 and Sahih Muslim: 1306)
Today, when an overwhelming number of pilgrims converge upon Mecca reaching tens of millions, rethinking the Hajj rulings becomes an imperative according to the basic jurisprudential postulates called Zarurat and Haajat (necessity). Any Islamic scholar will hardly dispute the fact that legal rulings change with changing times and circumstances (al-Zaruratu Tubihul Mahzuraat), as long as they are not antithetical to the clear injunctions in the Qur’ân and Sunnah.
There have been many major incidents during the Hajj over the years, causing the loss of thousands of lives. In order to prevent stampedes and accommodate more pilgrims each year during the Hajj, one has to be vigilant and extraordinarily careful at the biggest crowd that emerges at Tawaaf, the circumambulation around the Ka’abah. Here, the pilgrims should take utmost care and should not hasten to touch or kiss the Ka’abah in order to prevent the mishaps. We must remember that causing harm to others in any way is greater than the virtue of the Hajj pilgrimage. You could easily choose a suitable time for Tawaaf, when it is less crowded. The same holds true to Arafat, where all the pilgrims assemble at one time in one place. All of them move on at the same time. This is a place where most pilgrims face a tough time while standing and moving on.
This difficulty also crops up at Sa’ee of al-Safa and al-Marwah (running between the two holy hills in Makkah). Sa’ee could be performed on the upper floor to avoid the massive crowd on the lower floor. However, it is only allowed when the congestion of crowd is so much in the lower level that it causes severe difficulty. Moreover, it is not compulsory to reach the bare part of the hills and put the feet on them. It is enough to climb part of Safa and Marwah.
One of the baffling problems mainstream Muslims face during Haj is that they are coerced to perform the rituals of Hajj strictly according to the state religion-- the Wahhabi version of Islam. This is very unfortunate and appalling. Even in India, Haj House and Haj Committees strictly follow the Saudi/Wahhabi modalities of the Hajj training program. Even the Haj-related literature and all other related things are very much under the influence of a certain sect. Thus, the mainstream Hajis, particularly those from India who belong to the Sufi tradition are subjected to the Wahhabi coercion during the days of Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Recently, a set of Sufi-oriented Muslim organisations in India, particularly All India Ulema wa Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) and Sufi Voice of India (SUVOI) demanded that the mainstream Sufi-minded Indian Muslims be allowed to perform Haj (pilgrimage) according to the spiritual Islamic narrative they profess and practice. They are particularly concerned about their religious right to perform certain mystically-inclined practices such as Ziyarat (visitation of holy sites), Salat-O-Salam (recitation of Darud upon the Prophet Pbuh), and Fatiha (a certain recitation of Qur’anic Surahs). Since the advent of Islam, mainstream Muslims the world over have been engaged in all these forms of Ibadat (Islamic prayer) in some way or the other during the Hajj. However, it was only 250 years ago when the radical cleric Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi came out with an extremist and pristine puritanical theology to destruct the age-old Muslim faith, culture and heritage.
The destruction of historical monuments and Islamic heritage sites in the two holy places, Makkah and Madina, stemmed from the same cleric’s doctrine which declared visiting shrines a form of idolatry. Inspired by this doctrine, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Abdul-Aziz al-Shaikh, issued a fatwa allowing the demolition of Medinite monuments and Mecca’s oldest neighbourhoods under the pretext of expanding the two Holy Mosques. He writes in his fatwa:
ما هدم من أثرٍ في الحرمين الشريفين لا مانع منه بل إنّه من الضروري. و ما تنفذّه المملكة من مشاريع توسعة هو عملٌ شريف تشكر عليه الدولة وهو من الضروريات، لولا التوسعة لما وسع الحجّ لملايين البشر، وهي (أي أعمال التوسعة) أمرٌ مشروع.
The above fatwa clearly states: “We have no objection on the demolition of monuments adjacent to the two Holy Mosques, rather it is crucial.” It goes on to the extent of praising the expansion projects as a “decent work the Saudi Kingdom should be thanked for”. Because of such jurisprudential pronouncements, historical monuments and Islamic heritage sites have been demolished multiple times in the past. However, common masses in Saudi Arabia have different opinions about the demolition of monuments in Mecca and Madina. Their reactions range from stiff opposition to staunch support for the expansion projects.
In any case, the Haj House in Delhi and Haj Committees in other states should ensure that Indian Muslims are freely allowed to practice all the rituals of Haj (pilgrimage) and Ziyarat (visitation) in their own traditional way. Why should they be coerced by the restrictions of the state religion of Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism?
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. After graduation in Arabic (Hons.), he has done his M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilisations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.