Every year, Saudi authorities renew their warnings about illegal domestic pilgrims who seek to go to the holy sites to perform Haj without a permit. The campaign to stop domestic pilgrims from going to Haj without a permit, as in the past, is again termed — ‘No permit, No Haj’.
Despite the many repeated warnings by the authorities, tens of thousands in a daring attempt, violate this rule and cross into Makkah without any preparation or care for others and squat and sleep in pathways and roads, thus making it difficult for others. Squatting is a problem that we face every year.
Despite the severe punishment announced by the authorities against those violating this basic rule, which even includes deportation of residents, many still choose to defy the authorities. What is more surprising is that many of those defying the rule have made this annual pilgrimage more than once, when in Islam it is a once in a lifetime duty.
Many argue that they should continue doing the Haj pilgrimage as long as they are physically able to do it. This is true and would even have been allowed when a long time ago the numbers from outside the Kingdom coming to perform Haj were not as great as they are now. Today, pilgrims are numbered in the millions and that requires careful planning and advance preparation of infrastructure, logistics and resources by the government. An unexpected large number of illegal pilgrims will disrupt the careful planning and preparations while adding an additional burden on the authorities and the infrastructure.
There is a verse in the Holy Qur’an: “O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority.” The authority here is the government which has imposed and implemented the rule for performing pilgrimage for local pilgrims, which is once every five years in order to give a chance to others who have not yet performed Haj to perform it.
A pilgrim without a permit is a headache at Haj sites because there is no place for him to stay, and in the end, he will end up sleeping on the streets or in pathways.
As I said in an earlier article, individuals who are able to perform Haj financially and physically can by all means do so as long as they are in a Haj group where they are provided with care, transportation, food and restroom facilities. On this point, I am in agreement with these people. Those who are not able to do it because of financial reasons are not obliged to do so.
Those who have done it many times and have the money, instead of performing Haj, can donate this amount to facilitate the pilgrimage of others who are not able to perform Haj.
A pilgrim from outside Saudi Arabia pays a lot of money to perform Haj. And he earns this chance to come for Haj after many years of saving and waiting. Saving because he needs to accumulate yearly to pay for the Haj package in his home country, which yearly keeps changing, and waiting because invariably there is a waiting list in his country of people able to come and perform this very important and sacred ritual. Every country has to adhere to a prescribed numbers of pilgrims.
After all this, a pilgrim would not want to see disorganized squatters outside his camp. A pilgrim would not want to see roads and pathways blocked by sleeping squatters. A pilgrim would not want to see or be forced to deal with garbage, or unfortunately, on many occasions, human waste, left behind on the street by these squatters.
A pilgrim wants to ensure that his pilgrimage runs smoothly and safely and hopes to return home happy and satisfied after fulfilling the ritual.
The infrastructure at Haj sites is designed to accommodate a large number of pilgrims, which does not include squatters who have already performed Haj many times. Local squatters will also give the authorities organizing Haj a bad image. They will leave a very bad picture in the minds of many pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, I call on the authorities to come up with a way to make Haj affordable for middle- and low-income people. It is a fact that Haj campaigns are overpriced for many, especially people with a large number of family members. Given how expensive life is in some countries in Europe and even in North America, or how low salaries are in some Muslim and poor countries, many Muslims find it almost impossible to fulfill the lifetime duty of Haj because of financial reasons.
What if the authorities and some philanthropists joined together to sponsor those who find it difficult to save for Haj? Haj package providers should realize that it is an honor to serve pilgrims and they should have packages that charge pilgrims for the basic cost and not expect to earn an enormous profit from those who are the guests of Allah.