Over the past few months or year, social media has been littered with stories on how Black/African Americans have been gunned down by law enforcement agents without any provocation. We were shocked when we heard what happened to Trayvon Martin, infuriated when we saw Eric Garner, and stupefied when the shooting of Walter Scott. Our anger was justified. America was not really the land of freedom we had been made to believe it was. The black man was still a victim of racism, discrimination and anything negative.
Living in a 99% black country, it will be inane to go on a rant speaking against racism in my backyard. But being called an “Osman” makes a rant justified (read “Standing With Ahmed Approximately 6395 Miles Away from zangotude.wordpress.com). It gets more worrying when ranting against the ruling establishment in the holiest of spaces to Muslims becomes justified.
Hajj, one of the pillars upon which a Muslim’s creed is built, has been plagued with issues of stampede and preventable deaths since the turn of the 20th century. It becomes a trite issue whenever one talks about pilgrims being trampled to death while performing the pilgrimage. Most people actually desire such a death given the belief that dying while undergoing the Hajj rituals gives one a surety of gaining admittance into heaven. Nonetheless, these deaths are highly preventable and should be prevented to avoid giving people the image that the sites of Hajj are luminous graveyards waiting to welcome millions from around the world.
But this writing is not about the need for structural changes in the administration of Hajj or the need to break up the monopoly of the al Saud family over an act of worship venerated by millions of people. Such an exposition will be a futile and politically unfeasible one given the breach of sovereignty that entails. It will almost be akin to advocating for an unending sectarian strife in light of the ever growing Sunni-Shia struggle in the gulf region. This however, is about the fallout of the unfortunate stampede which happened in Mina where over 700 people died.
To the Muslim, dying in such a state is a utopic death, if there exists such a thing. We believe that once your Hajj has been accepted by God, all your sins are washed away and Heaven becomes your recompense. We believe that we will be resurrected in whatsoever way we died. What better way to die than while performing one of your most basic responsibilities to God! And so while we mourn the loss of human lives, we rejoice at this fate and have little qualms even though we still wish performing Hajj did not become a visit to our graveyard.
The vexation with the events of 24th September has to do with the blame game played by the Saudi Authorities. When Prince Khaled Al Faisal, head of the Central Hajj Committee was giving an account of how the stampede occurred, he laid the blame on “…some African nationalities”! Yep you read right. In classic fashion, the black man was blamed for iniquities of a system.
Before even going into the merits of that statement, it is worthy to appreciate the shadow this statement casts on Muslims of color. It speaks of us collectively, as a disobedient and undisciplined bunch who flout rules even while worshipping, to the detriment of others. It puts the blood of hundreds of pilgrims on our conscience and makes us responsible for that sad event.
The statement issued refused to address the speculation that a convoy of a member of the Al Saud royal family had caused a section of the general road used to be closed, causing a pandemonium and the ensuing catastrophe.
Even if that speculation which has been repeated by several other pilgrims is not true, the fact still remains that blaming a race or denizens of a geographic location was politically incorrect. It stands the danger of perpetuating the already sickening stereotypes perceived of that people. A statement could have been simply released blaming it on “SOME PILGRIMS” and not “…AFRICAN PILGRIMS”, that is given that it was even true.
But this barely comes as a surprise to me given the reportedly pervasive discrimination and racism against Africans in that society. We have heard unending stories of Ghanaian immigrants in the Arab world being abused by their employers and a number of anecdotes of students being ridiculed because of their color.
Of course not all people in the Middle East are racists but there is a disturbingly high number and the statement of the prince in relation to this matter points to the lack of sensitivity in handling matters of race.