Statement by the President on Hajj and Eid al-Adha

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

Michelle and I extend our greetings for a happy Eid al-Adha to Muslims worldwide and congratulate those performing Hajj. Thousands of Muslim Americans are among those who have joined one of the world’s largest and most diverse gatherings in making the pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby sites.

As Muslims celebrate this Eid, they will also commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son by distributing food to those less fortunate around the world.  They join the United States and the international community in relief efforts to assist those struggling to survive in the Horn of Africa and those recovering from the devastating earthquake in Turkey. 

The Eid and Hajj rituals are a reminder of the shared roots of the world’s Abrahamic faiths and the powerful role that faith plays in motivating communities to serve and stand with those in need.  On behalf of the American people, we extend our best wishes during this Hajj season.  Eid Mubarak and Hajj Mabrour.

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Of God and Country

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Kassem Zaid has had a connection to the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement for decades, but has meanwhile become a devout Muslim. How does he reconcile such contrasting elements in his personality?

By Alit Karp, Ha’aretz

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Zaid: ‘There is no room for extremism.’

Photo by: Yaron Kaminsky

We met 35 years ago. At the time Kassem Zaid was a correspondent for Al Hamishmar, the newspaper affiliated with the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. He was also teaching Arabic at educational institutions affiliated with the movement on its kibbutzim (I attended one such school ) and he had close ties with Israeli leftist circles. He wore jeans and checkered shirts and spoke a poetic Hebrew. A short while before Al Hamishmar closed its doors permanently, in early 1995, Zaid lost his job. Subsequently he made the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and became a devout Muslim.

Before we met about a month ago, I was expecting to see my 74-year-old former teacher bearded and dressed in a galabiya. But he arrived for the interview dressed in a suit and tie, and was clean-shaven. “Islam is a moderate, forgiving religion and it has no ritual clothing,” he explained in Hebrew.

Umm al-Fahm, the city of some 45,000, one of the country’s largest Arab towns, southeast of Haifa, has no sidewalks. Pedestrians, most of whom are youngsters (who wear Western attire, although girls do cover their hair ), walk down the city’s alleys where dumpsters overflow with refuse. Here and there one can see a stream of sewage. Any efforts at gardening are the result of private initiatives by local residents, and can only be seen tucked away in people’s yards.

“Relatively speaking, our situation is not bad,” my host, Zaid, told me, “because [municipal] taxes are collected here. The situation in other communities is much more difficult.” He pointed out that there are many fine Arab physicians and talented high-tech personnel in Israel. “Actually, the lack of equality,” he said, “forces us to excel, but that is a real shame. Discrimination is bad for the country; the human landscape here will never be complete without the Arabs.”

Aren’t some Israeli Jews afraid the Arabs will outnumber them and will drive them out by democratic means?

Zaid: “The Jews have a lot of unjustified fears. As someone who believes in coexistence, I cannot understand this fear. For 63 years, and in five wars, Israeli Arabs displayed loyalty at the highest level. I would like to allay the Jews’ fears: The birth rate among the Arabs has plummeted and there is no apparent danger that the Jews will be outnumbered. That fear would be justified only if the Jews do not return the territories. Then there would be a binational state here and Kassem Zaid would be prime minister.”

What is worrisome is the possibility that Muslim fundamentalists, like Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, will come to power.

“That will never happen. Even in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has declared that it will not field any candidate for the premiership or presidency. They are not interested in ruling the country. There is not the slightest chance that an Arab, whether he is Sheikh Ra’ad Salah or Kassem Zaid, will ever be prime minister. That is not at the top of the list of our priorities.”

So what is at the top of the list?

“We want equality. We want the Jews to look us straight in the eye, not look down on us. What is happening here now never happened even in South Africa. [Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman has pushed for a ‘citizenship loyalty’ law, but how can any of us know what another person is thinking or feeling? Even before Lieberman, we were unhappy. We were accused of being responsible for all the ills of Israeli society. There are even some expressions, like ‘Arab work,’ that articulate this feeling of contempt.

“I want Israel to be a ‘state of all its citizens,’” declares Zaid. “Although I also do not like to open up old wounds, I will state here that my family’s lands are located in the place where Moshav Hayogev was established [northeast of Umm al-Fahm]. I am not arguing that the kibbutzim and moshavim founded on those lands should be torn down, but nonetheless, we should receive compensation.”
Don’t you feel you belong in the State of Israel? In the kibbutz dining hall years ago, you looked as if you did.

“I still belong, but the country does not give me that feeling. I belong, despite all those who want to deny me the right to have that feeling. My sense of belonging is a result of my ability to cope with our situation.”

On the night of May 14, 1948, when Israeli independence was declared, you were 11 years old. What do you remember from that period?

“Nothing much happened that night because Israel received the ‘Triangle’ area of Arab villages after the country’s establishment, in accordance with the Rhodes Agreement. Before that agreement, we were Jordanian subjects. The agreement led us to feel that King Abdullah [I of Jordan] had betrayed us. After we came under Israeli administration, the Jews announced, using loudspeakers, that all those who had weapons in their possession must hand them over to the mukhtar [village headman]; the Jews also asked us to ensure that law and order be maintained in our communities.

“People were afraid of change. Obviously, I would have preferred seeing a Palestinian state established; however, people made peace with the new situation and, besides, there are a lot of advantages to living in Israel. On the personal level, Arab individuals can lead their lives in dignity, there is a senior citizens allowance, there is a guaranteed income allowance and no one suffers from abject hunger. My personal dignity is not trampled upon. But man does not live by bread alone. I am concerned about the relationship between Jews and Arabs in this country. Prior to the 1990s, that relationship was better than it is today. It is steadily deteriorating now.”

Who is responsible for this?

“In this struggle, the Jews fired both the first shot and the last one. Although there are some Arabs who undermine Arab-Jewish coexistence in this country, the Jews are the majority and they are the ones who run the government.”

To what extent will recent events in the Middle East have an influence on Israeli Arabs?

“They will have no influence whatsoever. I want to state here categorically that these events will not produce extremism among Israeli Arabs. All of you can relax: These events stem not from pan-Arabism or Islamization, but rather from the fact that the public in those states is fed up with their leaders’ corruption. Muslim circles in the Middle East have no ambitions with regard to seizing control. They want to field candidates in general elections [for parliament], but not for positions of leadership. Even if they had such ambitions, it should be recalled here that those who generated the revolution in Egypt are secular Muslims who use Facebook and Google. They will not allow any party with a religious character to take control of the country in which they live. It is important that leaders in the Middle East remember that people are interested first of all in having their dignity respected and that only afterward are they interested in bread.”

For years, you embraced the State of Israel and maintained close ties with Hashomer Hatzair’s kibbutzim. You were a communist and now you have become someone else, someone who prays five times a day. What happened?

“I was not a communist. I did not turn into someone else and I am still close to Hashomer Hatzair’s kibbutzim.”

The alarm clock rang, reminding Zaid that it was time for prayer, but he rejected our suggestion that we join him in the mosque. “Previously, I observed three of Islam’s commandments,” he explains, referring to accepting the faith of Islam, fasting during Ramadan and giving alms to the needy. “Then I added the commandments of prayer and the hajj.”

How do you resolve the paradox between religion and the aspiration for national equality?

“Islam is a religion that preaches equality between men and women, and God sent the Prophet Muhammad (s) to all humanity. If there is a reason why Islam sees itself as a religion that is preferable to other faiths, it is because Muhammad (s) was the last of the prophets. God sent him in order to complete what is missing in the other religions, not to invalidate them.”

And what about jihad?

“Jihad is not one of Islam’s basic principles. Jihad is the struggle that each person wages against himself or herself, in the metaphoric sense; it is not necessarily an actual war against some external enemy. The great jihad that Muhammad (s) refers to is an ongoing, daily war, not a war against infidels per se. However, even if we agree that jihad is holy war, all the peace agreements that Arab states have signed with Israel are being honored, and if the Palestinians receive their rights, there will no war in this land. The future depends on the intellectuals, not the religious leaders.”

There was a case here of an intellectual who headed an Israeli political party and who, when accused of collaboration with Hezbollah, fled the country in order not to stand trial.

“Azmi Bishara [of the Balad, or National Democratic Alliance, party] is a very intelligent person, but I do not agree with him and his approach. There is no room for extremism and if he did help Hezbollah, I reject him totally. I also call upon [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah, who is trying to recruit collaborators among Israeli Arabs, to leave us alone. We have more important tasks to pursue, concerning our citizenship in the State of Israel. Despite the discrimination, I am against the idea of anyone committing treason against this country. We feel that this is a state of all its citizens and that we are among those citizens.”

The term “a state of all its citizens” arouses considerable anxiety in the hearts of many Israeli Jews.

“I am not saying this to irritate the Jews, but this is a fact: Two nations live in this land and I want to be a citizen here with equal rights.”

Did this feeling lead you to seek refuge in Islam?

“I do not consider Islam a refuge. After all, I am a member of one of the oldest Muslim families in the world. My family belongs to the Prophet Muhammad (s)’s dynasty.”

But what happened when you suddenly became a devout Muslim?

“There is no such thing as an atheist Muslim. Anyone who refuses to recognize the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad (s) is simply not a Muslim, but a person who does not observe one of Islam’s commandments is not necessarily severing ties with Islam.”

When did you start praying daily?

“It did not happen on any specific date. I had planned this for a long time. Perhaps I did not have the time to do it, or perhaps I was just lazy, but 20 years ago, I began to pray five times a day. If I have the time, I go to a mosque; if I do not, I pray at home. The prayer lasts less than five minutes and a Muslim can pray anywhere.”

In 2004, Zaid performed the Muslim commandment of the hajj, along with his wife Salwa. As he circled the Kaaba – the most sacred site in Islam, in Mecca – he was deeply moved.
“When I saw millions of people all wearing the same attire, beggars alongside princes and tycoons, all wearing the same robe and praying to the same God, I had a feeling that was simply indescribable. There, and only there,” he said, “I felt that everyone was truly equal.”

Born again

Sociologist Prof. Aziz Haidar is a senior researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, says Kassem Zaid is not a unique case, in terms of his acquired religious identity.

“The phenomenon of the newly observant in the Israeli Arab community is a trend that began back in the 1970s, in the wake of the [Arab] defeat in the 1967 war, and due to disillusionment with pan-Arabism. The trend became more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the factors that contributed to it was the possibility that was provided in the early 1980s for making the hajj to Mecca. Two other factors were the collapse of communism and disenchantment with the Palestinian national movement.

“A prominent aspect of the phenomenon in the ’90s,” Haidar continues, “was the fact that it was not connected to religious extremism. Quite the contrary. And the vast majority of newly observant Muslims today are people with moderate views. In the ’70s, on the other hand, the first wave of newly observant Muslims was characterized by such extremism. Today these pious Muslims accept the ‘other’ and do not necessarily use external symbols such as attire in order to draw attention to their religiosity. It is hard to pick them out in a crowd − and I am referring here to those who have performed the commandment of making the pilgrimage to Mecca: They enjoy the good life, take vacations and engage in sports.

“Most young Muslim women who cover their heads dress like their secular counterparts and sometimes even provocatively. Even women who dress according to the Muslim religious code generally choose colorful attire, rather than the drab shades that one sees in other countries. Some of these young women do not even cover their heads. A relatively new trend is the phenomenon of women praying in the mosques. Prior to the ’90s, Muslim women in Israel did not pray in mosques, but today they do so during the month of Ramadan and on Fridays. There are even those who pray daily. This is modern, or postmodern, Islam, which is quite unlike what was observed in the past.

“One of the results of the national and democratic awakening in Arab states today may be the weakening of the Islamic movements, and even perhaps … newly observant Muslims…   Ha`aretz

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Islam – America’s Answer to the Race Problem

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

Repeated from earlier article.

“O mankind.  We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).  Surely the most honored of you in the sight of ALLAH is he or she who is the most righteous of you.  And ALLAH has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 

Hujurat:13

There is none more aware of the differences of human beings than the One who created them.  It is through the generosity and graciousness of ALLAH that He made us different nations, tribes and colors.  Just think for a moment how dull the world would be if everyone were pink and thought exactly alike.  We could not learn from each other – and thus, we could not grow.  But ALLAH, with His infinite wisdom, has made us different- so we may know each other.

In the early 1960’s, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and made the profound statement that “America needs to look at Islam as the answer to its race problem.”  Here was a man whose mind had been previously clouded by erroneous assertions of Black superiority and Caucasian devilishness.  While on hajj he wrote to his wife that he had sat down and eaten with blonde-haired, blue-eyed people and there was no racism there – only brotherhood.

Recently, in Southeast Michigan where I live, there have been a rash of ugly racial incidents and feelings put out.  There have been cross-burnings and even opposition to the building of a major mall because it would attract people from other cities nearby.  Southeast Michigan has the reputation of being one of the most racially segregated areas in the country.  Cities separated by a few miles are 90% African-American and 98% Caucasian respectively.

This can be looked at negatively as a sign of hatred, which in some cases it might very well be.  But what is more important than where people live is what is in their hearts.  ALLAH says regardless of where we live or were born, ALLAH says we are one ummah, and He is Lord (21:92)

In my nearly 30 years as a Muslim, I am a witness that Muslims, for the most part, look upon other Muslims as brothers and sisters, regardless of their culture, ethnic background, or school of thought.  As an example, a Muslim from China can meet a Muslim from the Netherlands while they are vacationing in Brazil, and there is an instant kinship and recognition – and most times a universal greeting of As Salaam alaikum.  I have seen this in no other group of people whether it be religious or fraternal.  Even Muslims who don’t necessarily like each other still share this kinship.  And it is not fake.  You know in your soul and heart if someone really likes you or not.

This is a blessing from ALLAH to those who are adherents to the highest form of existence for a human being…Islam.

Our charge now is to exercise this brotherhood by more visible interaction of the various Islamic communities.  Even if we live, work and play in different areas, we must make a conscious effort to be seen interacting and cooperating with each other.  This is not only good for us, but it will also be a sign and a help to those who are not Muslim.  It will raise the esteem of Muslims in the general society as having something very positive and beneficial to contribute to the entire world.

Let’s look in our communities and see how we can aggressively promote this religion.  Do you want to end racism?…..try Islam.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Martin Luther Kings’ Mountain Top

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

Every year in the month of January I am reminded of the powerful persona and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He was such a deep and prolific speaker that the gist of his speeches is still being felt today.  The “I Have a Dream” speech with its powerful message of hope, is so imbedded in our minds that for many of us, it the only speech we remember that he made.  Those of us who have faith and belief in ALLAH are constantly amazed at His revelations of His works.

On the eve of the assassination of Dr. King, he made a speech at a Baptist church in Memphis, Tennessee that many people believe foretold his eminent death.  He talked a lot about death that night.  He started with the story of the plane that bought him to Memphis and how the pilot delayed the flight because Dr. King was on it so it could be checked for bombs.

He also talked about a brush with death he had in New York when a crazed woman stabbed him with some sort of ice pick.  That assault brought the woman’s weapon dangerously close to Dr. King’s aorta (main blood vessel).  The doctor at the hospital told him the knife was so close that if Dr. King had sneezed he would have died because the pick would have pricked his aorta and he would have drowned in his own blood.  He used this incident to tell about a little white girl that wrote to him expressing her sorrow at his unfortunate incident.  She said she admired him so much and was so happy that he didn’t sneeze.   

Then he said he wasn’t afraid of death now because he had been to the mountain top.  He said God had allowed him to go up to the mountain top and he looked over, and saw the “Promised Land.”  He said he might not get there with us be he wanted us to know that we as a people would get to the Promised Land.  He said his eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the lord.

This became very personal to me in 1991 when I made the pilgrimage to Mecca.  I was on the plains of Mt. Arafat when I decided to climb the mountain.  When I reached the top, the only thing going through my mind was Dr. Martin Luther King and him telling us that he had been to the mountain top.

As I stood on my mountain top I look out over the plains of Arafat and saw the Promised Land. I say the Promised Land because Dr. King, in his most famous speech, said he dreamed of a land where his four little children would live in a land where they were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.   That is the vision I saw on Arafat where people of every ethnicity, every culture, every color; men, women, and children, were gathered in unity to worship the One God of us all.

I believed then, and I believe now that the mountain top Martin Luther King saw was Mt Arafat.  Islam is the only religion that has more true brotherhood and sisterhood than any other group of people whether it is a religion, a fraternity, or whatever.

Sure, there is bigotry and racism among Muslims but there is less of it than any other religion.  If you travel to any part of the world and you see a Muslim, there is instant recognition and greeting.  No one else can make that claim.  This is something we must hold on to and nurture.  It is one of the things that make this religion the greatest religion in the world.

More of Dr. Kings philosophy needs to be adapted by Muslims the world over.  Muslims must take the bold step necessary to shift world sympathy to our side.  Currently, we are looked on as aggressive barbarians and we get no sympathy from anybody.  However, people will stand up with us and protect us if they don’t look like weak fools for doing so.

The legacy of Dr. King is so important to future generations, and especially important to future generations of Muslims.  We can, and must win the battle by mental and spiritual strength – not by physical means….because we can’t.

As Salaam alaikum
(Al Hajj) Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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Iran Blames US Agents for Scientist’s Murder

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fredrik Dahl

2010-01-13T123250Z_01_BTRE60C0YUZ00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-BOMB-USA

An undated image released by Iran’s Fars News Agency of Tehran University professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi who was killed by a bomb in front of his home in north Tehran January 12, 2010.

REUTERS/FARS NEWS

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A remote-controlled bomb killed a Tehran University scientist on Tuesday, official media reported, in an attack Iran blamed on the United States and Israel.

Iranian officials and state media described professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi as a nuclear scientist, and Iran’s cabinet said agents of the United States were behind his murder.

A State Department official in Washington said charges of U.S. involvement were absurd.

Western sources said Ali-Mohammadi, a physics professor, worked closely with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi and Fereydoun Abbassi-Davani, both subject to U.N. sanctions because of their work on suspected nuclear weapons development.

The U.N. nuclear agency is investigating Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for generating electricity and not for building nuclear bombs as the West suspects.

Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Ali-Mohammadi, 50, had not played a role in the activities of the organization, which is at the center of the disputed nuclear program.

Shahram Amiri, a university researcher working for the atomic body, disappeared during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June, three months before Iran disclosed the existence of its second uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom. In December, Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of handing Amiri over to the United States.

“America’s spying and intelligence agents from one side abduct some Iranian citizens … and on the other side their treacherous agents kill an Iranian citizen inside the country,” an Iranian cabinet statement said, reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

A list of Ali-Mohammadi’s publications on Tehran University’s website suggested his specialism was theoretical particle physics, not nuclear energy, a Western physics professor said.

The bombing — a rare attack in the Iranian capital — occurred at a time of heightened tension in the Islamic Republic seven months after a disputed presidential election plunged the oil producer into turmoil.

It also coincided with a sensitive juncture in Iran’s row with the West over its nuclear ambitions, with global powers expected to meet in New York on Saturday to discuss possible new sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt its atomic work.

Earlier, Iran’s Foreign Ministry blamed Israel and the United States.

“Signs of the triangle of wickedness by the Zionist regime (Israel), America and their hired agents, are visible in the terrorist act,” it said.

“Such terrorist acts and the apparent elimination of the country’s nuclear scientists will definitely not obstruct scientific and technological processes,” it said.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said the accusations were absurd. A senior Israeli official said Ali-Mohammadi was not known to have been a significant figure in any military nuclear program.

BOOBY-TRAPPED MOTORBIKE

English-language Press TV said Ali-Mohammadi was killed in a northern part of the capital by a booby-trapped motorcycle as he was leaving his home. It showed footage of blood stains, broken glass and other debris at the scene, with what appeared to be the dead man in a body bag taken away on a stretcher.

Fars said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered the intelligence and security services to use all their capabilities to find those behind the killing.

State broadcaster IRIB described al-Mohammadi as a “committed and revolutionary” professor, suggesting he backed Ahmadinejad’s government. Fars quoted one of his students as saying he had worked with the elite Revolutionary Guards until 2003.

But an opposition website, Jaras, said he was an opposition supporter whose name was among hundreds of academics who issued a statement in favor of moderate candidate Mirhossein Mousavi during the campaign for last June’s election.

Even if he had worked on Iran’s nuclear program, analysts doubted his death could set back Tehran’s aspirations.

“I have no reason to think that this is part of an Israeli or American strategy to deprive Iran of the brains of the enrichment process,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, chief proliferation analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. “There are by now too many scientists and engineers with the requisite expertise”.
STRATFOR, a global intelligence firm, said Ali-Mohammadi was unlikely to have been a key figure in nuclear activities since his publishing record pointed to purely academic research.

“The relatively high visibility and volume of work in academia suggests that Ali-Mohammadi’s role, if any, in the nuclear program was not very significant,” STRATFOR said in an analysis. “Critical scientists involved in nuclear weapons programs usually are sequestered carefully and provided more security than Ali-Mohammadi was given.”

Fars quoted a foreign-based group, the Iran Monarchy Association, as claiming responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing. It did not say how it obtained the statement.
Iran has been convulsed by its most serious domestic unrest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as protests by opposition supporters against the election result have turned violent. Authorities deny opposition allegations that voting was rigged.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark Trevelyan)

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Saudi Arabia Improves Hajj Security, Bans Protests

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Louisville Democrat Examiner, Timothy Morgan

2009-11-21T171100Z_1597266078_GM1E5BM032701_RTRMADP_3_FLU-SAUDI-PILGRIMS

A security official wearing a protective mask keeps an eye on cars at a checkpoint between Jeddah and Mecca before the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage November 21, 2009.  Saudi Arabia said on Saturday four pilgrims had died of the new H1N1 flu virus three days before the massive Muslim haj is due to begin, al-Hayat newspaper said.

REUTERS/Caren Firouz

On November 25-29, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca of the Hajj begins in the Islamic world.  The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and a moral obligation under the religion for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey must do so at least once in their lifetime.

The Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, with 2.5 million Muslims expected to make the trip this year.

With such a large movement of people, the Saudi government has issued warnings that all protesting during the Hajj is banned.  The government has also stepped-up security, with more than 100,000 Saudi military deployed during the pilgrimage.

While the Saudi Arabian security forces assert that they do not expect any troubles, the interior ministry official in charge of security, Gen Mansour al-Turki, said that “We will not allow any actions that might disturb any other pilgrims, or affect their safety.”

In 1987, 402 people were killed when troops broke up a protest by Shia pilgrims.  This year is also the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the Great Mosque in Mecca, home of the Kaaba and Islam’s holiest site, by Sunni extremists.

The Kaaba is a cuboidal building in the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca that pre-dates Islam and is the holiest site in all of Islam.  Muslim beliefs say that the original building on the site was built by Abraham.  Thus, a mosque was built around the site and all Muslims, regardless of their location, must face the Kaaba during daily prayers, as well as take part in the Hajj if able.

Last month Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned that it would take “appropriate measures” if its citizens faced restrictions.  Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader, called for the Shia to show that they were dealing with challenges to their unity.

Thus, the Saudi government has responded by both warning Iran not to abuse the Hajj for political purposes, and by the ban on protests.

Authorities are also hoping to prevent a repeat of the deadly stampedes, such as in 2006 when 364 people were killed, that have afflicted the Hajj.  In response, the Saudi Government has recently finished the rebuilding of the Jamarat Bridge at Mina, the 950m (3,135ft) long, 80m (260ft) wide five-story pedestrian walkway, which cost $1.2bn, and that authorities hope will prevent overcrowding.

11-49

Chinese Train to Mecca?

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Keith Barry Email Author / Wired Magazine

Mecca

The Saudi government is building a $1.8 billion monorail to ferry pilgrims among the holy sites of Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. Once complete, the Saudis estimate 53,000 buses will disappear from the city’s crowded roads, promising a safer, more comfortable pilgrimage.

The monorail will be built over the next four years, with the first segment — roughly 35 percent of the project, by one estimate — opening in time for this year’s Hajj between November 25 and 29. Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims must complete if they have the means and ability to do so, is the fifth Pillar of Islam and as such attracts a staggering number of pilgrims.

Controlled access to the monorail is intended to avoid accidents such as the tragedy at Mina in 2006, when more than 350 people died in a stampede after two busloads of pilgrims disembarked at the entrance to the Jamarat Bridge holy site. Trains on four elevated tracks will carry as many as 20,000 pilgrims an hour in an orderly fashion, with parking available at all stops.

The monorail appears to be a good way of controlling human and vehicular traffic to holy sites. The author of the Mujahideen Ryder blog says the monorail is a “pretty cool idea to make Hajj safer and efficient. I can’t wait to see it.”

According to Straits Times, the Chinese Railway Corp. is building the monorail. It is one of two rail projects the Chinese are building in Saudi Arabia — the other being China Railway Engineering’s 275-mile high-speed rail system linking Mecca and Medina through Jeddah. China’s involvement in both projects reportedly was clinched during Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao’s visit to Saudi Arabia in February, during which representatives of Chinese Railway Corp. met with Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the commission for developing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Should the project succeed, it certainly will see a lot of use. Hajj is the world’s largest pilgrimage, and the number of foreign pilgrims nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, when more than two million pilgrims reportedly attended.

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