As I’m scheduled to depart the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia tomorrow, I have a few random thoughts to share.
For one, I’ve talked to a number of leading religious leaders in the Arab world, who discussed the need for Muslims to increase dialogue and interfaith understanding with Christians. These people include the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the Chief Judge of Al-Madinah, Saudi Arabia, a Mufti from the United Arab Emirates and the Mufti of Tarablus, Lebanon.
I also came into contact with a leading Mufti in Iraq, who wrote a book about extremism in Iraq and the proofs that they use to kill other Muslims. Killing fellow Muslims who they believe are not true Muslims is the greater goal of Al-Qaeda, not killing people of other religions firstly by the way. He related gruesome stories such as extremists cutting off persons’ heads then playing soccer with them!
Unfortunately, I heard another scholar (non-Iraqi), who I will not name, state that any person who curses the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) such as Abu Bakr, Umar or his wife A’isha have committed a most evil act and are not Muslims. Though this scholar does not advocate murdering people who curse the companions, such statements open up the doors for those with extreme thoughts to kill Shi’i Muslims as if they are defending Islam!
I also saw several dignitaries of Muslim countries including a Princess from Morocco, the President of Guinea, the President of Senegal, the President of Dagestan (Russian subject) and the President of Sudan. The President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, has a warrant for his arrest from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegations of genocide against Muslims in Darfur. Al-Bashir was looked upon, however, like a movie star walking in Makkah and Al-Madinah (I saw him in two different cities). If you’re wondering why he was walking around so freely is because the Arab League and the African Union have both stated that they are not going to detain Al-Bashir and turn him over to the ICC. By the way, the United States of America, China, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel are NOT members of the ICC.
I had the chance in Jeddah and Makkah to have conversations with several men from countries including Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Australia, Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Almost all of the converstations shared two components. They found it hard to believe that my roots are in America and that my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are not from the Muslim world. And all of them who mentioned President Obama had a smile on their face saying “Obama” in varying accents. This is a marked difference in comparison to when I was at Hajj six years ago when I met some hostility for being an American and/or heard negative comments about former President George W. Bush. Of course, I heard, to my chigrin, comments (all from Jordanians), who believe that President Obama is really a Muslim.
While sitting in the Sacred Mosque in Makkah for prayer, I sat next to an Afghan man, who appeared to be in his early 60’s that told me he was a “Mujahid” that fought against the Soviet Union. When I asked him about how were things where he lived, he told me that things were well in Herat (his dwelling place) and that he has no problem with the Americans.
In Jeddah, I had the chance to visit a couple of shopping malls, one which looks like any large mall in America. There was Foot Locker, lingerie stores, a food court with McDonalds, KFC, Cinnabon, Baskin-Robbins, etc. And of course, there were teens roaming the malls in small groups, girls trying to look cute with too much make-up on and guys trying to look cool, some with hip-hop apparel on. The scene brought me back to reality in a sense that despite my traveling in this part of the world a number of times, I had to reflect on how my perception of Saudis has been framed by American media depictions.
At the end of the day, people are simply people. This is one of the blessings of the Hajj experience is reconnecting with the common aspirations of man.