Making the Hajj from Central Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 1/4/2006 · 1 comment

RFE/RL has a story on the process for pilgrims from Central Asia making the hajj.

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, hajjis arrange their trips either through private firms or state agencies.

In Turkmenistan, where the lives of citizens are strictly controlled by the state, the final say on the issue of the hajj belongs to President Saparmurat Niyazov. He personally approves the list of pilgrims from Turkmenistan, which usually includes some 200 people, the fewest among the five countries of the region.

Uzbekistan’s Muslims have to apply for the hajj through a state agency that monitors procedures related to the pilgrimage. They travel on the state airline.

Uzbek authorities say pilgrims benefit from state control over the hajj. “I am not bragging about it, you know, but it is true that Uzbekistan has the best conditions in terms of organizing the hajj and paying attention to pilgrims’ needs among all the Central Asian countries,” Shukhrat Ismailov of Uzbekistan’s State Committee on Religious Affairs told RFE/RL.

The ‘Bashi personally approves the list in Turkmenistan? I wonder if knowledge of the Rukhnama is a requirement for all those who make it. Uzbekistan seems streamlined and easy by comparison.

I especially like this about the Uzbek process.

“This year, 5,000 people are going on the hajj. They are accompanied by 100 heads of groups, 30 doctors, and some 40 members of the working group,” Ismailov added. “There are even cooks, because Uzbeks are picky in terms of food and drink lots of tea. We took all these into account while organizing the hajj.”

In Kyrgyzstan, about 2,500 people above the country’s quota of 4,500 applied to go. They have yet to receive refunds on their money and have not had their passports returned yet. This has led to a good degree of anger on the part of those who were turned away and protests in Osh.


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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

ann January 9, 2006 at 2:46 pm

Thought you might want to publish a link to The Media Line article on the plight of pilgrims for the Hajj.

Here is the link:
http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=12361
IRANIAN SPEECH AT THE HAJJ ATTACKS U.S., ISRAEL ON SAUDI SOIL

(Saudi Ministry of Hajj)

Islamic tradition requires that every Muslim make at least one pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca during their lifetime. This year, more than two million Muslim pilgrims are estimated to have arrived in Mecca to perform the Hajj duty.

As is the custom on the first day of the Hajj, the pilgrims began walking towards Mount Arafat, to perform the central rite, the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Participants, numbering in the thousands, joined in the ‘Disavowal of Pagans’ ritual at Mount Arafat in the early hours of Monday morning.

During the ritual, a speech said to have been written by Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamanai was delivered by his representative for Hajj affairs, Muhammad Muhammadi Reyshahri. While the speech – one of the Hajj’s first events — made reference to the “mercenary government of Israel” and the “satanic policies of international Zionism,” most of it targeted the United States. Typical was an attack on the “colonial methods” used by the “Great Satan.” During the speech, many members of the audience held up yellow placards reading “Death to America” and pink placards reading “Death to Israel.”

Comments of this nature made by the Iranian regime are far from new. But as The Media Line’s analysts explain, the fact that they were expressed by an Iranian official on Saudi Arabian soil in the language of the Saudis (and not in Farsi, the Iranian language), should be a source of concern to Washington. Saudi Arabia is considered one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East.

Following are some excerpts from the Khamanai speech, as read by Muhammad Muhammadi Reyshahri:

“The Muslim nations face today a post-modernist colonialism. They have to benefit from their experience, and prevent the enemy from repeating the unsheathing of its sword in the shape of oppression against their values and fate.

“Today, the fleets of the arrogants are advancing once again, using cunning methods to perpetuate and strengthen their rule over the Muslim nations. The slogan of spreading democracy and human rights is one of the deceiving methods used. The Great Satan [common phrase in Iran, depicting the United States] is incarnating evil and violence against mankind, while raising the flag of defending human rights, and calling the Middle East nations to democratize.

“America and all other usurpers, mobilized all their media outlets and political forces, in order to thwart the Islamic renaissance, or to oppress it if they can. The Islamic nations must understand the situation today, and to follow it with caution. The religious clerics, the religious authorities, the intellectuals, the students, the writers, the poets, the artists, the youth, and the elite – must all take with all seriousness the appropriate initiative, in order to prevent greedy America from beginning a new phase in its colonial rule over the Islamic nations.

“The Muslim world has to get rid of the constant state of learning from others, and to rely on its own resources, aiming at scientific creativity.

“The blind and brutal terror, which the occupiers use as an excuse to attack Islam and Muslims, and to continue their military invasion, is something that the Islamic values reject and denounce.”

When The Media Line presented the above excerpts to the U.S. State Department for comment, a spokesman replied that, “Remarks such as these are outrageous and unacceptable. These remarks reflect an openly anti-Semitic and anti-U.S. platform from Iranian leadership that we find both troubling and destabilizing. We have been very clear about the troubling nature of Iranian behavior including its support for international terrorism, its pursuit for weapons of mass destruction, its deplorable human rights record, and its opposition to regional peace-making efforts.”

Saudi Arabian officials and the Ministry of Hajj failed to respond to numerous requests for comment by The Media Line.

Click here to watch The Media Line’s video on the Hajj speech.
By Yaniv Berman on Monday, January 09, 2006

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