As another year in the Islamic calendar approaches its end, thousands of Muslims are once again partaking in the holy religious ritual that is Hajj, although this time in significantly lower quantity and in much different fashion, owing to the coronavirus pandemic. However, what was once a noble gesture of unity and solidarity aimed at purifying one’s sins as per Islamic tradition, has over the past century become one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest money-making ventures.
Back in the 1950s, only about 100,000 Muslims made the pilgrimage to Makkah annually. Since then – due to massive leaps and bounds made in global transport as well as great increases in world population – the pilgrimage has grown to accommodate a much higher number of Muslims: almost 2.5 million pilgrims attended Hajj in 2019.
The lucrativeness of the religious ritual from an economic standpoint can be further substantiated by the fact that Hajj and Umrah cumulatively add $12 billion to Saudi Arabia’s GDP every year. This high number constitutes 20% of the kingdom’s non-oil GDP and 7% of its total GDP. With an oil industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and some experts predicting that it may never again reach the heights it reached in 2019, Saudi Arabia finds itself in an unprecedentedly dangerous economic situation.
But most people would not be quick to extend their sympathy to Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich monarchy has notoriously used its economic muscle to win over practically every powerful country in the world from the United States to Russia to China. The monarchy continues to triumph despite its notoriously poor human rights record, and its despicable war against Yemen, which has led to Yemen being dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations. It is not a hard deduction that the revenue earned by Saudi Arabia during Hajj likely made their attack on Yemen much easier than it would have been otherwise.
Hajj was once a noble religious ritual. Malcolm X described it best, “They were of all colours, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.”
Now, it appears that while its religious significance may remain, it has regrettably become a money-making business – a tool of Saudi Arabia’s despotic regime to keep the world kneeling before it.
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