In the Name of God: The Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord
This is a special time of year for Muslims all over the world. As I write this, millions of Muslims from around the world are descending upon the holy city of Mecca to begin what will likely be the most powerful spiritual experience of their lifetimes. The annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is set to begin tomorrow. The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage and series of rituals that every Muslim – if physically and financially able – must perform.
I was blessed to perform the Hajj in 2003, and it was as if it was yesterday. The lessons and experiences I had during that time will always be with me, and no matter where I am, the holy places always call me back to them.
Each year, as the crowds of millions of Muslims who come to Mecca for the hajj continue to grow, Saudi Arabian authorities have stepped up safety and security measures. There is a long list of troubles they hope to avoid: crime, fire, stampedes, the spread of infectious disease.
But this year, Saudi officials are on alert against a new threat: Islamic State militants and offshoot groups inspired by them.
Indeed, attacks by extremists are nothing new:
“Judging from its published statements and videos and its penchant for revolting acts of violence, I would not be surprised at all if ISIS tried to disrupt the hajj in some fashion,” said Fahad Nazer, a terrorism analyst with the Virginia-based contractor JTG Inc. and a former political analyst at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. “After all, a group with very similar extremist views did lay siege to the Grand Mosque in 1979, shortly after the end of the hajj season that year.”
The 1979 incident, where hundreds of militants led by Saudi national Juhayman al-Otaybi seized Mecca’s Masjid Al-Haram, also known as the Grand Mosque, for two weeks, was the most dramatic case of violence around the time of the hajj. But it was far from the most recent. In 1987, a riot caused by a clash between anti-American Iranian demonstrators and Saudi security forces led to more than 400 deaths, while two bombs set off in 1989 killed one pilgrim and injured 16. Saudis beheaded 16 Kuwaiti Shias for the crime.
Still, for the barbarians of KIL to try to do anything to disrupt the Hajj would be a new low. The whole area surrounding the holy shrine at Mecca is considered a haram, or sacred sanctuary. No living thing is supposed to be harmed within its boundaries. This law dates back to the Patriarch Abraham himself. The pagan enemies of the Prophet Muhammad dared not violate this sanctity.
Yet, would I be surprised if KIL tried to commit acts of violence during this or any subsequent Hajj? Not really. These criminals have shown themselves to have little regard for basic human decency, let alone the sanctity of life. But it will only increase my already strong revulsion for them and their ilk. Every sacred space – no matter where the place and the faith – should be a place of peace and sanctity.
I pray that the Lord God protects His house – and the guests blessed to visit it – from the bloody hands of these monsters. And I pray that every pilgrim is blessed with the most powerful spiritual experience in their life, and that they come back from Mecca with both their faith and their spirituality renewed and recharged.