Eyewitness Account: Saudi Arabia’s mistreatment of the pilgrims during the Volcanic Ash crisis

When the volcanic ash cloud hit Europe last week I along with thousands of other Muslims was caught stranded in Saudi Arabia after performing the umra (minor pilgrimage).

As we set off for Jeddah Airport we were obviously concerned since our flight had been cancelled and we were unsure what assistance would be provided to us by the Saudi government’s Hajj ministry and Saudi Airlines.

In the days prior to our departure from Makkah we watched the news reports showing passengers stranded at airports across the world. On the whole these airports were providing those stranded with food, blankets and makeshift beds in an attempt to ease their plight. Thousands of others were being accommodated in hotels by their airlines because any airline based in the EU must by law provide food, drinks, and hotel accommodation.

On reaching the Saudi Airlines terminal at Jeddah Airport it very quickly became apparent that unlike the hundreds of other airlines and airports across the world the Saudi government would be providing absolutely no assistance to those stranded. The Hajj ministry and Saudi Airlines refused to provide any financial assistance to those affected saying they couldn’t afford to accommodate so many people. This is despite the fact that King Abdullah is the richest leader in the world with an estimated wealth of $21 billion!

The majority of those stranded and flying back to Europe were returning from performing umra and were not only guests in the country but were guests of Allah (Most High).

The Prophet ﷺ said: “The one who fights for the sake of Allah and the pilgrim who goes for Hajj or Umrah are all guests of Allah. He called them and they responded; they ask of Him and He will give them.” [Ibn Majah: 2893]

In Pre-Islamic Arabia a period commonly referred to as jahiliyyah (days of ignorance) the Arab tribes had a strong tradition of hospitality towards the guests. Much of their poetry was dedicated to the merits and honour of entertaining the guests and this practice remained strong even though they were mushrikeen (idol worshippers).

The Arab tribe ruling Makkah was known as Qureysh. They had an added responsibility towards the guests since they were in charge of the Holy Ka’bah and those performing the pilgrimages were not ordinary guests but the guests of Allah (Most High). Providing food and water to the guests of Allah (Most High) was considered a great honour and this honour fell to one of the families of Qureysh called Banu Hashim from which the Prophet ﷺ is descended. The word Hashim in Arabic means the crushing of bread and it was the nickname of the Prophet’s ﷺ great-grandfather ‘Amr bin ‘Abd Munaf who upgraded the meals of the pilgrims by crushing bread in to the soup of meat that used to be cooked and given to them.

When Islam was revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ this tradition of honouring the guests continued.

The Prophet ﷺ said: “Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honour his guest.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

The majority of the Arabian Peninsula today is ruled by King Abdullah and the Saudi royal family. They are now the ruling authority in Makkah as Qureysh were before Islam. Yet despite claiming to implement shari’a in their constitution (even though a Kingdom contradicts the Islamic ruling system of a Caliphate) those in power are even worse than pre-Islamic Makkah in terms of honouring the guests and providing for the guests of Allah (Most High).

Abu Maryam al-Azdi narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whoever is put in charge of any of the affairs of the Muslims and remains aloof from them and pays no attention to their needs and poverty, Allah will remain aloof from him on the Day of Resurrection, and will pay no attention to his needs and poverty.” [Abu Dawood, Ibn Maajah, Al-Haakim]

Although I was in the fortunate position Alhamdulillah of only spending one day at Jeddah airport before finding alternative hotel accommodation many were not so fortunate. There were women, children, sick, disabled and old people at the airport who were not even offered water by the airport officials!

“It’s been absolutely awful. It’s the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life,” 35-year-old Rayhanah Runnell told AFP by phone on Thursday, hours before boarding a flight back to Britain. “I have a daughter of three and a son of seven years old, and they’d been sleeping on the benches and in the masjid (mosque) downstairs. They treat you like a piece of filth. There’s been no sense of humanity whatsoever in this place since we have arrived.”

However not all guests in the Kingdom are treated this badly. When Barak Obama came to Saudi Arabia in June 2009 he was housed at King Abdullah’s lavish desert horse farm and awarded the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit, the country’s highest honour. This is the same award George Bush received the year before, despite both US Presidents occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and being responsible for the daily deaths of Muslims.

This is the reality of living under a monarchy ruled by an oppressive King. There is no rule of law since the King is sovereign and the constitution is not worth the paper it’s written on. In Islam there is one ruling system which is the Caliphate ruling system where the rule of law exists based on shari’a.

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph said, “By Allah, I do not know whether I am a Caliph or a king, for if I am a king then this is a tremendous matter.” Someone said, “Amir al-Mu’minin there is a distinction between the two of them.” He said, “What is it?” He said, “A Caliph does not take except what is due and he does not use it except in the right way, and you, praise be to Allah, are like that. The king treats people unjustly, and takes from this one and gives to that one.” ‘Umar was silent. [Suyuti, History of the Caliphs]

Throughout the history of the Caliphate facilities were provided for the travellers and guests, and in a future Caliphate such infrastructure will exist again inshAllah.

In the Caliphate of Umar bin al-Khattab, he set aside a large number of camels – which were a means of transportation available at that time – to make it easy for those who had no mounts to move between the Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq. He also set up something known as dar ad-daqeeq (lit. House of flour) which was a place where saweeq, dates and raisins, and other requirements of life were stored, which could be used by stranded wayfarers and guests who were strangers. On the road between Makkah and Madeenah he provided whatever travellers would need and mounts to take them from oasis to oasis. Umar was following the guidance of the Qur’an which suggests that cultural development requires effective communications, which leads to security, so the traveller did not need to carry water or provisions with him. And Umar issued instructions to the tribes, generals and governors telling them to do the same.

[Dr Ali Muhammed as-Sallabi, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab his life and times,’ volume 1 p. 388]

It was narrated from Katheer bin Abdullah, from his father, that his grandfather said: “We came with Umar ibn al-Khattab for Umrah in 17AH, and the people of the oases on the way asked him to let them build their houses between Makkah and Madeenah, where there had been nothing before, and he gave them permission, but he stipulated that the wayfarers had more right to the water and shade.” [Ahkam as-Sultaniyah by Al-Mawardi]

Although we were treated badly by the Saudi authorities a distinction must be made between the regime and the ordinary people who live under this regime as is the case in all Muslim countries today. The average person and low level government officials try to make good of a bad situation as best they can, and it’s with them that the future revival of this ummah lies.

Omar Farouk, who was also a stranded passenger in Jeddah complained of the treatment by the Saudi Authorities but said he was touched by the “kindness shown by some of the local people” who brought them food every day. “They’re buying toys for the children and making sure the children are getting enough vitamins,” he said.

I also witnessed this in Masjid al-Haram (Holy Mosque) where ordinary Muslims would go to the zam zam taps and bring cups of water to those performing tawwaf.

The descendants of the Muhajireen and Ansar living in Saudi Arabia today need to follow in the footsteps of their noble ancestors and re-establish the Caliphate in the blessed land of the Arabian Peninsula once again. The Prophet ﷺ gave good news that this period of oppressive kingship we are living under today would come to an end and the Caliphate (Khilafah) would be established once again.

The Prophet ﷺ said: “There will be Prophethood for as long as Allah wills it to be, then He will remove it when He wills, then there will be Khilafah on the Prophetic method and it will be for as long as Allah wills, then He will remove it when He wills, then there will be biting Kingship for as long as Allah Wills, then He will remove it when He wills, then there will be oppressive kingship for as long as Allah wills, then he will remove it when He wills, and then there will be Khilafah upon the Prophetic method” and then he remained silent. [Ahmed]


A K Newell

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