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Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Each adult believer in Islam is required to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Prophet Muhammad’s holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, unless unable physically or financially.

Some believers repeat this unique experience. The media usually relegate the annual ritual to news features, but this year’s event August 9- 14 is laden with spot news significance.

That’s because ongoing tensions in the Muslim world have produced a campaign to boycott the current Hajj — a nearly unimaginable break with tradition that has received scant coverage in the West. Western reporters should pursue reactions to this in their regions with Muslim sources and agencies that cater to pilgrims. How many believers have postponed Hajj visits till future years after things calm down?

The boycotters are protesting the devoutly Sunni host nation of Saudi Arabia and its ruler since 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS”). The particular grievances are the Saudis’ prosecution of Yemen’s vicious civil war, ongoing hostilities with Iran and toward Islam’s minority Shia branch, and human rights violations, including the murder of a regime critic, The Washington Post ‘s Jamal Khashoggi.

An anti-Saudi analysis at foreignpolicy.com by Ahmed Twaij of Iraq’s Sanad for Peacebuilding notes that in April Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s chief Sunni authority, declared that making a repeat Hajj visit or the Umrah (voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year) is “an act of sin rather than a good deed.”

In June, a senior official with Tunisia’s Union of Imams joined boycott calls, saying Saudi income from Hajj visits “is used to kill and displace people,” as in Yemen, instead of helping the world’s impoverished Muslims. Twaij reports that “Sunni clerics around the world have also called for a boycott,” whereas past enmity toward the Saudi regime has come largely from Shia Muslims.

Most remarkable of all was a fatwa last August from Qatar’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is very influential among Mideast Sunnis through his Al Jazeera TV appearances and Internet postings. His words could be interpreted as undercutting even the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime Hajj: “Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the Hajj and Umrah every year.”

Some of this campaign could be payback for the recent years when Saudi Arabia barred believers from Qatar and Iran from joining the pilgrimage, or helped repress a Shia uprising in Bahrain.

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Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Is there any region of the world more confounding and irritating, no matter what your worldview, than the Middle East -- ground zero for some of the world's nastiest, religion-steeped political conflicts?

Well, yeah. There's also Washington, D.C.

But let's put that latter mess aside for a moment -- though political decisions made there undoubtedly impact capitals from North Africa to the Persian/Arab Gulf, and beyond.

We should never minimize the tragic and ongoing death and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Lebanon and now even Iran following the successful ISIS attack there. They're a terrible indictment of humanity's penchant for cruelty and the pain that unfortunate folks are forced to endure by others.

For now, however, let's focus on Qatar, the natural gas-rich Gulf monarchy that until recent days managed to steer a middle -- if duplicitous -- course between the United States and its Sunni Arab quasi-allies on the one-hand, and Shiite Muslim Iran and its proxy militias, such as the Palestinian terror group cum Gaza government Hamas.

(Let's not forget that Qatar is also a major international media player, thanks to its financial backing of Al-Jazeera.)

You're probably aware that Qatar burst anew into the American political conscious when several of its Sunni Arab neighbors cut diplomatic ties and closed their borders with Qatar in retribution for its ties to Islamist terrorist groups and their supporters.

The situation escalated when President Donald Trump -- there's the D.C. connection -- took credit for the action and piled additional opprobrium on Qatar, which is situated on a thumb-shaped peninsula protruding into the Gulf directly opposite Iran. This, despite efforts by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson -- no doubt mindful that Qatar hosts America's largest Middle East military base -- to lessen the diplomatic confrontation.

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Byzantine maneuvers: There's more to this Orthodox council story than Russia vs. Istanbul

Byzantine maneuvers: There's more to this Orthodox council story than Russia vs. Istanbul

Anyone who has worked on the religion beat for a decade or two probably knows the answer to this "lightbulb" joke, because it has been around forever (which is kind of the point).

Question: How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a lightbulb?

The answer is: Lightbulb? What is this "lightbulb"? (The point is that lightbulbs are modernist inventions that some heterodox folks might use in place of beeswax candles.)

However, I have heard another punchline for this joke that is highly relevant to the struggles that some journalists are having as they try to cover the long-delayed, and now stalled, Pan-Orthodox Council, which was supposed to open this week in Crete (previous post here).

So ask that lightbulb question again, but this time answer: Change? What is this "change"?

I have received emails asking me what is going on with the gathering in Crete. Most of these emails include a phrase similar to this: "What is Russia up to?" Well, there's no question that the Church of Russia -- far and away the world's largest Orthodox body -- is a big player. But to understand what many Orthodox people think about this gathering, you need to think about that lightbulb joke and then ponder how they would respond to this headline that ran the other day at Crux.

Leading cleric says Orthodox Church’s ‘Vatican II’ is a go

Disaster! Yes, a theological adviser to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said something like that.

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