The death of Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was marked largely by a semblance of ‘indifference’ in the Muslim world including Kashmir. Zamir Ahmed argues how Muslims have become indifferent to the self proclaimed ‘custodians’ of their holy place in absence of their formidable global leadership
The holiest places for Muslims all over the world are Makkah and Madinah. While Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad’s [PBUH] birthplace, houses the Kaaba, the physical epicenter of Muslim faith; Madinah is revered for hosting the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] both during his life and after his passing away. Almost every Muslim has a yearning to visit both the places at least once in his lifetime – to Makkah for the obligatory Pilgrimage or Haj; and to Madinah to offer ‘salaam’ at the Prophet’s Grave. The more devout of the Muslims have a perpetual longing to die in one of these two cities and to be interred there – preferably in the Prophets City – the Madinah.
Needless to add, these two cities evoke unfettered feelings of passion among Muslims even at the mere mention of their names. Not just the names, everything associated with these cities is considered sacred. On their return from the pilgrimage, the more zealous of the pilgrims ‘steal’ a handful of soil from the cities, skirting the watchful eyes of the police, and will their heirs to apply it on their bodies after their death; the less zealous ones bring back various items, mostly ‘Made in China’, and distribute them among relatives as tabarruk.
Even as monarchy is an anathema in Islam, the rulers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been traditionally held with respect in the Muslim world primarily because of them being the “Custodians of the Holy Places”—Khaadimain-il Harmaini-Sharifaen. The death of the King, earlier, used to evoke mourning and condolences from across the Muslim world. The Nimaaz-e-Jinazah in Absentia (Gaibaana) for the dead king would be held even in as far off places as Kashmir as a mark of respect and solidarity. Religious organizations, politico-religious groups and the clergy would organize elaborate commemorations for the deceased king.
Presently there seems to be a shift from that past fervour. The death of late king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who ruled the kingdom for a decade till his death on January 25 this year was, amongst other things, marked largely by a semblance of indifference in the Muslim world. Back home there was no Gaibaana Nimaaz-e-Jinazah held unlike earlier. A couple of condolence messages were all that marked the death in our part of the world.
Ironically enough, it was the west and its media that paid glowing tributes to the departed king. So much so, an Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, in a scathing article, blasted the world leaders including Barack Obama, Tony Blair and Narendra Modi for, what it called ‘the poetic letters’ sent by them on the King’s death. It went on to say that “it is time, (for the world leaders) to wake from the slumber of hypocrisy and moral relativism. Saudi Arabia is not a role model, and leaders who laud it as one deserve to be called onto the carpet”.
Notwithstanding the uncalled for indignation of the newspaper on the matter, relativism describes best the lukewarm response shown by the Muslim world in grieving over the death. Not that the feelings and emotions of the Muslims towards their holy places have changed. They have not. The religio-political crises that engulfs most of the Muslim world today has, however, marked a shift in how the Muslims relate to their ‘leaders’..
For one, The Saudi monarchy is not seen as venerable as it was considered few decades ago. The political alliances of the kingdom and its stand on issues like the Palestine, the Arab spring, the advent of Democracy in Egypt and its subsequent abortion, to name a few, have over the years created a formidable dent in the image of the Saudi Arabia as it was in the heydays of OPEC and under the rule of Shah Faisal. Since early nineties, starting from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent upheavals in the Middle East giving. Ultimately, rise to a hydra-headed monster called the ISIS, the Saudi government has been seen more as collaborator of the west, especially America, rather than being a custodian of the rights of Muslims and their nations. In the process though, the Saudi Kingdom has pawned its position as a formidable state and as a world leader whom the Muslims of the world could look upto.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the TIME magazine opened its article on the king’s death thus; “Ten years ago, the death of a Saudi king would have sent shock waves through Washington. Today, as the Kingdom recovers from the death of King Abdullah yesterday, Saudis don’t carry the same clout. In part, that’s because the U.S. is much less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than it was a few years ago, as U.S. companies have reinvented the way oil and natural gas is produced.”
Additionally and more importantly, the power games the kingdom chose to play in the Middle East ostensibly to checkmate Iran and also its sponsorship of the literalist interpretation of Islam has created a very deep schism in the Muslim world. The unholy blending of the statecraft with sectarianism not only created competing narratives in the Muslim world but also weakened the Muslim cause everywhere.
The internecine embrace that the Islamic world is grappling with today and taking the whole world in its throes can, in part, be attributed to the policies espoused by the Kingdom over the years. Rather than assuming a leadership status in the Muslim world, the kingdom has relegated itself to an evil which on one hand has clamped down all kind of political dissent within itself and on the other hand has miserably failed to take a firm and just stand on important issues concerning the Ummah. The late King, was, as such, largely seen not as a world leader and head of a petrol producing nation but as a despotic monarch who was more interested in securing the rule of his family over the kingdom.
All this has not gone unnoticed. The Muslims may never falter in their reverence towards their holy place but, they have, in absence of a formidable global leadership, become indifferent to the self proclaimed ‘custodians’ of their holy place of even those of their faith.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.)