Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Each adult believer in Islam is required to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Prophet Muhammad’s holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, unless unable physically or financially.

Some believers repeat this unique experience. The media usually relegate the annual ritual to news features, but this year’s event August 9- 14 is laden with spot news significance.

That’s because ongoing tensions in the Muslim world have produced a campaign to boycott the current Hajj — a nearly unimaginable break with tradition that has received scant coverage in the West. Western reporters should pursue reactions to this in their regions with Muslim sources and agencies that cater to pilgrims. How many believers have postponed Hajj visits till future years after things calm down?

The boycotters are protesting the devoutly Sunni host nation of Saudi Arabia and its ruler since 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS”). The particular grievances are the Saudis’ prosecution of Yemen’s vicious civil war, ongoing hostilities with Iran and toward Islam’s minority Shia branch, and human rights violations, including the murder of a regime critic, The Washington Post ‘s Jamal Khashoggi.

An anti-Saudi analysis at by Ahmed Twaij of Iraq’s Sanad for Peacebuilding notes that in April Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s chief Sunni authority, declared that making a repeat Hajj visit or the Umrah (voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year) is “an act of sin rather than a good deed.”

In June, a senior official with Tunisia’s Union of Imams joined boycott calls, saying Saudi income from Hajj visits “is used to kill and displace people,” as in Yemen, instead of helping the world’s impoverished Muslims. Twaij reports that “Sunni clerics around the world have also called for a boycott,” whereas past enmity toward the Saudi regime has come largely from Shia Muslims.

Most remarkable of all was a fatwa last August from Qatar’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is very influential among Mideast Sunnis through his Al Jazeera TV appearances and Internet postings. His words could be interpreted as undercutting even the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime Hajj: “Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the Hajj and Umrah every year.”

Some of this campaign could be payback for the recent years when Saudi Arabia barred believers from Qatar and Iran from joining the pilgrimage, or helped repress a Shia uprising in Bahrain.

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Bloodshed in the headlines: What is the current world situation with religious persecution?

Bloodshed in the headlines: What is the current world situation with religious persecution?


What is the current world situation with religious persecution?


The slaughter of 50 Muslims and wounding of dozens more at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, provoked horror in that pacific nation, and sorrow and disgust worldwide. Why would anyone violate the religious freedom, indeed the very lives, of innocent people who had simply gathered to worship God?

Unfortunately, murders at religious sanctuaries are not a rare occurrence. In the U.S., recall the murders of six Sikh worshipers at Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012); nine African Methodists at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C. (2015); 26 Southern Baptists in a Sunday morning church rampage at Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017); and 11 Jews observing the Sabbath at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last October.

The Christchurch atrocity was unusual in that authorities identified a white nationalist as the assailant. Most mosque attacks are not carried out by a demented individual, but by radical Muslim movements that intend to kill fellow Muslims for sectarian political purposes. The most shocking example occurred in 1979. A well-armed force of messianic extremists assaulted the faith’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, during the annual pilgrimage (Hajj). The reported death toll was 117 attackers and 127 pilgrims and security guards, with 451 others wounded.

After Christchurch, The Associated Press culled its archives to list 879 deaths in mass murders at mosques during the past decade. (Data are lacking on sectarian attacks upon individual Muslims, also a serious problem for the faith). Such incidents get scant coverage in U.S. news media.

2010: Extremist Sunnis in the Jundallah sect bomb to death six people and themselves at a mosque in southeastern Iran. Then a second Jundallah suicide bombing at an Iranian Shiite mosque kills 27 and injures 270.

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Since hajj is the cool thing for journalists to do this year, let's cover the messy details

Since hajj is the cool thing for journalists to do this year, let's cover the messy details

This year’s hajj has become quite the place to be, judging from an avalanche of articles about the 2-million-plus-person event in Saudi Arabia’s sweltering heat.

First, there are the article/blogs written by Muslim correspondents or reporters going on hajj, as in this Washington Post Q&A and  this New York Times piece. But, if you’re going to send someone there, you might want your reporter/blogger to know her religious facts. Not only are there two corrections attached to this Times piece, but she also claims Hagar was Abraham’s wife, which in Islamic thought legitimizes Hagar's lineage through Ishmael as equal to that of Sarah's lineage through  Isaac. Concubine, yes; wife, no, is what the Old Testament would say to that.

There are fewer fluffy pieces than, say, two years ago when the rage was selfies in front of the kaaba. This year, however, Bloomberg did run feature about a hajj app.  The Guardian had much stronger stuff with its piece on recent changes to Mecca in which whole chunks of its ancient quarter have been destroyed.    

So what's the point? I wish to draw your attention to the roughly 2,400 deaths during last year’s hajj that hangs in the air.

Now, this was a huge, huge deal around the world (even Pope Francis sent his condolences), even though we didn’t hear much about this in the States.

One worthy effort is this piece in the New York Times: a beautifully photographed article why thousands of pilgrims died during last year’s hajj. But there’s a huge omission. Start reading it here:

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Omar Mateen's interesting trips to Saudi Arabia: The details are 'conservative' news?

Omar Mateen's interesting trips to Saudi Arabia: The details are 'conservative' news?

Journalists and all you careful consumers of foreign-news coverage, I have a question for you. At this stage, after the horrors of the massacre inside The Pulse gay bar in Orlando, what elements of the case do you think are drawing the most attention from investigators at the local, national and global levels?

Everyone (well almost everyone) is really interested, of course, in learning more about the motive for the crime.

That could be a local question or it could be a national question. That could be a global question. I can imagine a scenario in which it is all three and, for national-security experts, that is the nightmare scenario. What if the lone wolf wasn't really a lone wolf?

If that is the case, then it is fair to ask when Omar Mateen met radical jihadists with ties to ISIS or, at the very least, ties to radicalized forms of Islam that might lead a young man to sympathy for the Islamic State. Yes, the internet is a likely channel But the World Wide Web alone?

This brings me to the question that I have been asking for a week or so now. I would imagine that investigators are rather interested in what did or did not happen during Mateen's two relatively recent trips to Saudi Arabia, as in 2011 and 2012.

What? You have not read much about those rather expensive and flexible trips? Well, that's because, when it comes to follow-up work among journalists, these trips appear to be (wait for it) "conservative news."

Here is a typical New York Times reference, from early reporting:

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