By Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi
May 16, 2013
About 1,400 years ago, Makkah, as per the modern definition, was an economic centre that attracted many people from the Arabian Peninsula — a marketplace in which various commodities were sold. Culture represented a very important aspect of this Arab tribal religious extravaganza, especially in the field of poetry. The seven most famous poems in the history of Arab literature were presented and promoted at this exceptional location, which, in addition to its commercial and cultural significance, also served as a place for idol worship, which was later abolished by Islam.
However, trading in various commodities through barter, and promoting poetry and idol worship, were not the only activities that occurred in Makkah prior to Islam. Makkah was a place in which social relations were woven among different tribes, serving as a place for meetings and forging alliances, exchanging information on natural disasters, inter-tribe wars, water sources, cattle and new convoy routes. It was also a place in which plans for future projects came about, or “long-term projects” as they are called in modern day trade lingo.
Makkah remained a central location for a commercial, social, cultural and religious gathering that took place on a specific day on a yearly basis. This gathering was planned very carefully to ensure that all involved traders received their expected gains and was a massive event by the standards of the day and age.
If we are to be true to ourselves and set aside the significant and primary religious role of Makkah for the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, then we could perhaps speak about the other roles it could play less timidly — roles that are absent in this day and age. If some of those efficient roles were to be brought back, then it would certainly serve the benefits of all Islamic countries in particular and all Muslims around the world. However, these roles must be deemed suitable and convincing, because they cannot all be brought about through people alone as they require the contributions of institutions.
It is important to remember that these are merely suggestions and this article is a discussion of ideas, not an expressed interest in carrying out some sort of projects or vision. The matter of projects and visions, which are deemed possible for execution, is up to the decision-makers in Islamic countries and at the forefront of these countries is Saudi Arabia because it is the custodian of the two Holy Mosques and its affairs. These suggestions will touch upon a single Islamic rite and that is Haj, which is mandatory for any Muslim who is financially and physically able. I have quite often pondered on writing about other roles that can be played by Makkah. The first of such occasions was when I took my mother for Haj and the second time was when I accompanied my brother for Haj.
Islamic countries are currently undergoing many political crises, but my focus will be on how to address the economic issues. One can currently observe that a study is underway to replace the traditional economic system with an Islamic economy, especially with regard to Islamic banking.
Reports are also underway about some GCC countries and cities planning to become capitals of Islamic economy that is expected to attract huge Islamic investments, according to estimates. In addition to setting up Islamic banks that provide a variety of services, economic and commercial projects that are based on the concept of Islamic economy will also be undertaken.
The concept of Islamic economy is starting to spread and now its dimensions are being understood by both Islamic and non-Islamic communities. It is worth noting that the first-ever Islamic banks were set up in Dubai and Riyadh back in the 1970s.
In addition to being a location of religious importance to Muslims around the world and being the place where the Holy Mosque is located, Makkah today also possesses many other capabilities and plays different roles. Among those is Islamic decision-making in both political and economic terms, which would involve many Muslims around the world. Such a role would not be alien to Makkah. In fact, it is highly suitable considering its history over the past hundreds of years. As we mentioned previously, this role was played by Makkah even before the revelation of Islam.
Islamic countries and billions of Muslims around the world need, more than ever, a Makkah that can take on various roles — more so, a role that manifests itself in different aspects of a being a Muslim as well as a non-Muslim in both the Arab region and other regions where Muslims live.
Muslims can travel to Makkah for the purpose of Haj and then return to their countries. This is an obligation that must be carried out by any able Muslim. However, it is also required for Makkah to reprise its other historic roles, especially its economic and political ones.
Makkah is the only place that is able to utilise the gathering of Muslims on an annual basis for Haj to unify their voice after they are done uniting their hearts. Such a gathering can be used for presenting economic and political agendas and coordinating among one another the implementation of these agendas for their own benefit without intruding on a country’s sovereignty or internal affairs. This will make unity among Islamic nations a reality.
A Makkah which takes on a religious role will always exist. However, it is a requirement, and a justifiable one, for it not to be content playing only a single role because it holds immense capabilities that are waiting to be harnessed and realised. Whoever takes on such a duty will be doing a great service to Islam and Muslims and this step is in line with the needs and challenges being faced by Muslims around the world in modern times. So long as we are Muslims and we undertake such a step with the best intentions in mind, it will surely be of great benefit to the Muslim population.
Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a writer and journalist.