This year I had an oppoertunity to perform Haj (the annual pilgrimage for Muslims). This was my first time and I was very anxious and worried about the event prior to going. I heard all sorts of stories about the hardships of Haj with over 2.5 million visitors. I also saw something about how local governments in Medina missed golden opportunity to receive blessings and goodwill from the visiting mulsim brothers and sisters.
We arrived on Dec 17th first to Medina, the Prophet Muhammad (SA) city and the location of Masjid-Al-Nabawi Islam's second holiest location after Makkah and the Haram of Kaabah. Other than the usual feelings a person gets about visiting these holy sites, I wanted to share a few reflections of what I saw from the local government and their practices.
Thousands upon thousands flock to Medina to pay their respects to Rasululah (SA) at this Masjid and his grave site in Medina. Whether you were Shia or Sunni, people throng to the site. Why, you ask? It was obvious that the draw of the site and the holy meaning(s) of the masjid was attracting the people. Then why are the Saudi religious police preventing the muslim brothers from paying their respects properly. What I saw was the local police preventing their Muslm brothers from truly performing all the rituals. There are numerous accounts of these events and when I saw them first hand, it was sad but true. I understand that different Muslim traditions and sects have their own beliefs, but blocking a fellow muslim brother to just perform a few rituals that spiritually lifts him / her and to allow them to experience their own fullfillment of their once in a lifetime trip is a crime against Islam. It is disrespecting the legacy of the Rasullulah (AS). It goes against the grain of the basics of Islam.
The same can be said about Jannatul-Baqi - the Prophets graveyard where the Shia sect have their most respected leaders including the Ahelebait (progeny and family) of Rasululah (AS) - Molatena Fatema (AS), Imam Hassan (AS), Imam Ali-Zainul Abidin (AS), Imam Jafer-Us-Sadiq (AS) and Imam Bakir (AS) and many more. Again the Saudi local police has a huge banner outside which says that one should not consider coming to the gravesite anything but a reminder of death and what it means to you. It says, paying respects to the dead should not be more than just that. They misuse a hadith to make this point. This is all well and good, but again Islam is a huge body of people with many different interpretation. We are not here to debate who is right and wrong but rather to allow muslims of various traditions to express himself freely and show the beautiful diversity of our culture. Why keep the Baqi grounds closed at all times except for a meager 3 hours in a day? Why prevent people from allowing them to pay their respect their way at the gravesite? What purpose does it serve for the police other than impose and opress their own Muslim brothers? The local government claims they are custodians of these holy sites and it is their "privilage" to serve the Muslim Ummah! I would respectfully diagree and say that they are doing everything BUT serving their brothers.
Don't get me wrong, the local government spends millions on infrastructure but keep in mind they are not doing it for free! The country receives almost unlimited economic benefits from Muslims visiting these holy sites and during Haj they charge almost $300 per head in fees. This is not free by any means. Furthermore, the multitude economic benefit of Mulsims buying and conducting tourist commerce when they visit these sites is also a huge benefit to the government.
It is sad that the Saudi government is trapped in their Wahabi principals and are missing the opportunity to serve their fellow brothers and show the diversity and yet unity in Islam. Instead of receiving barakaat (blessings) of prayers from their Muslim brothers for serving them, they receive the wrath of Millions of Muslims feeling a little disappointed after every Haj. What a missed opportunity indeed!!!