As the hajj reached its climax today with the Eid al-Adha, and as pilgrims threw pebbles at one of the three stone pillars in Mina symbolizing the devil, this ancient religious ritual took on a decidedly contemporary cast. We learn en passant from an Associated Press news report about hundreds of deaths in a stampede that "someone had scrawled" the letters USA on the largest of the pillars, making an equation between Satan and the United States. That the authorities in Saudi Arabia, who eagle-eyed watch every aspect of the hajj, should for one second tolerate such a graffito speaks eloquently about the mood in that country.
It bears noting that the sermon yesterday in Mecca's Grand Mosque, listened to by an estimated 500,000 people in person and untold millions via television and radio, and delivered by Sheikh Salih at-Talib, had but one request of God: That he grant victory to Muslims in their battles around the world.
Oh God, give victory to the mujahideen [holy warriors] everywhere. Give them victory in Palestine. Oh God, make the Muslims triumphant and destroy their enemies, and make this country and other Muslim countries safe. Oh God, inflict your wrath on the criminal Zionists.
Here, at least, the Saudi authorities were careful not to let the United States be mentioned by name. At least some in the mosque were left unsatisfied. An Associated Press dispatch quotes one Rajab al-Arabi, a Belgian national of Tunisian origin, complaining that he expected a stronger message. "In Belgium, we have Egyptian and Moroccan clerics, who freely criticize the hardships of Muslims, which include the injustice that has befallen Iraq and the occupation it is under" by U.S.-led forces.
These anti-American sentiments, unfortunately, are widely shared among pious Muslims. There is no virtue in denial; this enmity must be faced and dealt with in a resolute manner. (February 1, 2004)