Sectarian Divide Has No Place at Hajj

Fulfilling the pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj, is an obligation upon every financially- and physically-abled Muslim, says an MPAC message. It adds: The experience is meant to be a test of patience, endurance, unity in diversity and will to remain in a spiritual state of being while away from life’s comforts. Tragically, a group of American Muslims experienced an ugly betrayal of the sacred values associated with this once-in-a-lifetime journey of faith.

During the Hajj which just took place, a group of American Muslims from Michigan were physically attacked and threatened with death because they were Shia. One of the members of the group was choked and women in the group were threatened with rape, according to people who witnessed the attack. The members of the group say Saudi authorities did not take their complaints seriously and deleted a video one of them had made of the incident.

According to many news reports, the Americans were attacked by a group of Lebanese Australians. Their attackers allegedly identified themselves as Salafis, a more conservative strand of Islam mainly exported from Saudi Arabia. Regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, the blatant disregard for the equal rights and dignity of all pilgrims was grossly violated.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Such verbal and physical attacks have been reported taking place during previous years’ pilgrimages as well.

The US State Department has commented that they “are concerned by reports that a group of US citizens was attacked … at a campsite for hajj [sic] pilgrims located outside of Mecca. We take these reports seriously and are committed to the protection of US citizens traveling and residing abroad.”

Though Saudi Arabia and its Hajj and Interior ministries have confirmed they are investigating the incident, such investigations tend to fizzle when media attention recedes. The investigation should extend beyond getting the facts of what happened and further focus on how to stop this from happening again.

In a letter to the State Department this week, the Muslim Public Affairs Council urged US officials to apprehend the perpetrators of this attack.

“The State Department is responsible for the safety of American citizens traveling abroad, and must demand that its allies take threats seriously. MPAC condemns the brutality that occurred at this year’s hajj. During the hajj period, peace and a focus on God should be at the forefront of pilgrims’ minds. Such a heinous display of aggression must be dealt with swiftly by the Saudis, who are responsible for the safety of all pilgrims.”

The rights of minorities should always be protected, regardless of the time and place. It’s time safety is realized when all Muslims perform the rites and rituals of their faith.

Please take a moment to post this article on your social media channels and also send a note to the State Department urging them to take action.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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