Apologies for not making regular posts in the last little while. Getting in the habit of writing consistent and meaningful blog posts is something I'll have to work on more. But for now, some thoughts on an issue that has been bothering me after my travels to Makkah (Mecca), Saudia Arabia.

Being a muslim from birth, I've been brought up with values that resonate with the teachings of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Often times, in the media, these teachings are misconstrued to be thought of as extreme ideologies, when in reality the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) draw parallels with the teachings of the Prophet Isa (PBUH), better known as Jesus (PBUH). 

With that being said, I expected the values that I had been taught to be exemplified in the country that hosts the holiest of sites for Muslims. 

I was disappointed upon arrival. 

Arriving in Jeddah's airport, I saw a line dedicated to Sudanese and other African muslim's trying to get into the country, and then I saw a line for "everyone else". Needless to say, our waiting time was much shorter than theirs.

On our way to Makkah, Saudia Arabia, I saw countless poor and homeless people on the street, mainly of African decent. In Makkah itself, people of South Asian decent held low-skilled position with the consistent theme of poor and homeless African population. 

I didn't want what I saw to be the lasting impression I had of a place that is tied to my spiritual beliefs, so I decided to do a bit of research, only to be further disappointed. The Human Rights Watch has condemned the middle east on numerous accounts of domestic worker abuse that the immigrant population faces. Maid's are driven to the point of insanity due to this abuse, resulting in deaths of their employers by their hands and consequently, their own deaths by the government once they are convicted for murder. These behaviours are the result of exploitation of migrant workers by employers who behave as sponsors of the immigrants at first but end up exerting power, resulting in the workers being unable to change jobs, leave the country or having to work with no pay for years.

Religion has often been viewed as a tool of development, as it has the ability to reach communities like no other groups. This can be viewed in two ways, faith-based aid (Christian Children's Fund or Islamic Development Bank) or moral-based development. Since my issue has nothing to do with need of monetary involvement  we can leave faith-based aid alone for this conversation. My point of moral-based development is this; religion, where ever originated, stemmed from a void that needed to be fulfilled. Moses (PBUH) and the Pharoah, Jesus (PBUH) and the Romans, Muhammad (PBUH) and the Quraish. All of these stories told a tale of oppression,  victimization, senseless violence and a carnal lifestyle that plagued the people of their time, with the Prophet's (PBUT) acting as a beacon of guidance to resurrect morality and humanity where it least seamed possible. 

The message it seems, at least in the Muslim world, has once again been lost in the sands of time. Instead of spending money to feed the poor, more money is being spent to glamourize places of worship that only need glorification through spiritual devoutness, not gold and silver. People are not being treated as equals, but as a means to an end to benefit those who already lead a life of comfort, belittling their rights as human beings. Women are once again seeing the oppressive nature of man that Islam sought out to erase from its very inception. 


Religion isn't a set of rules, but an underlying theme of peace and love that has been repeated throughout history. If we digress from the true meaning of Islam, we are left with the current situation in Saudi Arabia and much of the middle-east. The message can be easily used to not only improve the lives of others, but ones own life as well. Kindness, charity and compassion are a few examples of the many good deeds that one can perform to improve ones utility of life. Something as little as smiling at another person can improve ones day instantly, so imagine what would happen if you took the extra step and fed a hungry stomach. 

I pray that in this month of Ramadan, more Muslims are brought closer to the true meaning of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) message and our societies can once again flourish with equality and justice. 

And with that, I leave you with a verse from the Holy Qur'an:

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Al- Quran 49:13




7/12/2013 20:16:45

This is a really good post Zain. Saudi Arabia is one of the worst examples of Islamic teachings around the world. One of the biggest things which really bother me, personally, is the making of Kiswah (block cover for Kaa'ba). It costs about $5 million and a total of 700 kg of raw silk, and 120 kg of gold and silver thread are used to make it (paid by the Saudi government). Is it really important to use silk, silver and gold in making a cover which is changed every year?

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7/15/2013 23:13:16

Makkah started off with just a stone and that was enough for people that we given the message of God. All the resources that go into the making of the Kiswah can be substituted to feeding the poor that surround Makkah, but unfortunately they are over looked for the glory of Makkah itself.

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7/13/2013 13:28:24

This is a really interesting post Zain. Where do you think the root of these inequalities stems from? What role do you think religion has in bridging these gaps, and how likely do you think it is for this to happen?

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7/13/2013 14:10:21

I think these inequalities probably come from similar places as inequalities all over the world, it may just be that because of the juxtaposition between the abuses, opulence and such a holy place made Zain notice it so profoundly (obviously I can't speak for him though!). People who can exert power over others without repercussion tend to do so.
Religion can provide a framework or guiding principles for people to bridge these gaps, but it has to be followed correctly for it to work. I feel like many people only see what they want to see in their religion's teachings, and like Zain said, lots of people stray from the core values. That's unfortunate, because the vast majority of religions are built with really strong and important values embedded in them!

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7/15/2013 23:21:39

As Caileigh mentioned, it is the ability of being able to exert power over others without repercussions that provide the basis of such inequalities to exist. I think culture plays a huge role and can sometimes be confused with religion as it is so widely accepted in a society that they end up becoming one in the same. That is why misogyny sometimes exist within communities and become "religious values" when in reality the sentiments stem from the cultural practices, not religious teachings.

Graeme
7/13/2013 13:43:25

Wow Zain, this was well worth the wait. I really like how you used your critical analysis skills in this situation. Additionally, I love your description on religion because that is exactly how I feel. Values such as kindness charity and generosity, are universal regardless of religion. Great post and I look forward to more!

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7/15/2013 23:25:41

Thanks Graeme!

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7/13/2013 14:15:52

Fascinating post Zain! It's interesting to see in what you've described some of the trends that can be seen on a global scale. We are living in an increasingly unequal society and I think that coming back to some of these universal values of understanding of the problems of others could help in going against this trend.

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7/15/2013 23:26:34

Forsure Anna. After all thats what its all about in the end isn't it? Peace, love and humanity.

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7/13/2013 14:48:26

I think it's interesting that you were able to analyze the inequality from an outside perspective. Unfortunately, it happens too often that the true meanings and values within a religion are lost because, as you said, religion is based on values that are meant to make you a better person. Do you know if many people have had the enlightenment you did about the inequality within Makkah, or do you think people often just accept it as normal and continue on their personal journey without thinking twice?

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7/15/2013 23:29:16

I think the older generation don't consider it to be strange and have accepted the things that go on there. I don't know why this is the case but I think it may have something to do with their own country of origin where culture plays a huge role in what goes on and no one questions the disparities between religion and culture.

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7/13/2013 17:32:54

Zain excellent blog post! One of the reasons why I kind of dissented from the mainstream Muslims is the sheer inequality in basically everything. I consider Islam to be a religion of justice, equality and peace, yet on almost all of these scales modern Muslims rate pretty low. I do understand that these kinds of issues exist in all religions and even atheism but I am only concerned with my own dirty laundry. I would like to see a just society which Prophet envisioned and hopefully we can all work towards it. Great Post by the way!

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7/15/2013 23:29:57

I pray for the same. Ameen.
Thanks Sumbal!

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FreeS
7/14/2013 03:54:20

Firstly I would like to commend you on a splendid display of your research and opinions, it was well received by me and expresses your point very thoroughly.

It is not "entirely" the fault of the current Saudi Arabian Monarchy or public that such inequality exists, it is like this because this has gone on for generations upon generations. When one grows up in such an environment that inequality is present, one becomes almost numb to the facts that may be all around them. But that is not to say that there are not those that do see these inequalities and fight to bring change even if they are overshadowed and completely unheard of by the majority of the populace. In my personal opinion, the Saudi Monarchs who run Saudi Arabia, are not only afraid of change but they are also very distant to the idea of it. Since they have gone on so long with their ways, it seems almost like tradition to them, and then they become oblivious to the needs of their people. The royal bloodline is raised in the same sense the western monarchs were raised during the medieval ages, raised to think and believe that they are of a different breed, that they are of the “pure bloods”. As much as anyone would love to blame the entire royal family for all the inequalities that exist, one cannot because it would be unfair to pass judgement on them just because a few of their ancestors put this mindset into a sense of tradition for them. A point to note despite all the inequality that exists in Saudi Arabia, there is a lot of good that they do for the muslim world such as after every Eid al-Adha, much of the meat from the sacrificed animals is shipped throughout the muslim world.

Although one cannot “entirely” blame the monarchy, partial blame does lie with them because of their ignorance and need for acceptance from the West. The thirst for a personal gain has pushed the monarchy to the feet of the West, due to their greed they overlook the needs of their people. They continue to ignore the teachings of Islam, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the words of the Holy Qur’an by letting such inequalities exist within their nation (a nation built to uphold the foundations of Islam). I would like to say though that Saudi Arabia is not the only place where such inequalities exist, and specifically where immigrants or foreign workers are treated so badly. The prime example being UAE, where you may have lived for 3 generations and still get denied citizenship or better known as where you’re offered a good job with benefits if you migrate there, and then when you get there you are stripped of your passport(so you have no way of leaving) and then put in a labour camp to work for pennies under the desert sun. And as for the populace, they seem to find nothing wrong when they walk by a construction site and see the workers passing out from heat exhaustion or accidents from poor working conditions. One may believe that Saudi Arabia is blessed land with the amount of oil under it and the amount of wealth that is held due to it, but their blessing is also what has brought them to ruin, it is what feeds their ignorant ways. The royals are nothing to look up to, much of them are despised by not only their own people and the friends that they have in the West will disappear just as fast as they appeared when the oil runs dry. Hopefully it does not take them that long to realize that their people and their principles of their religion are more important than their greed.

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7/15/2013 23:42:57

Thanks for the insight Faaris. I think your statement shows us why money can become the root of all evil. Even after having so much wealth, they continue to marginalize others so that their expense can remain at an all time low and they can continue making profits off the sweat, blood and tears of others. This new age slavery reminds me of how America was made at the expense of the lives of African lives and labour.

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7/14/2013 15:54:59

Awesome post, Zain! Very insighful! A good description of the issues and what the original ideas of the faith were. Thank you for sharing that with us!

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7/15/2013 23:43:24

Thanks Katiana!

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Areesha
7/14/2013 18:18:37

Well observed zain!
it actually saddens me to see the "modernization" of Mecca.
Growing up there, my memories of the place seem almost invalid as I see and hear the most recent updates.
I remember not being able to take a camera or a phone inside as it was a place of peace and worship, and now all you see is people trying to get close to the Kabbah to get a good instagram picture.
the true essence of religion in its entirety is long gone.

thank you for sharing your insight!
:)

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7/15/2013 23:48:35

People are often seen struggling to touch Hajar-Al-Aswad because of the jostling going on in the crowd. Often times women are unable to get a chance to touch the stone because of this type of environment. I saw a grandma trying to get inside the crowd. I tried stoping her but once she got in, she disappeared, I hope she was ok.

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Ajani
7/14/2013 19:11:01

Another thoughtful post. You touched upon a topic that has always bothered me: the glamorization of places of worship. My parents told me how there would be homeless people seated outside of temples begging for spare change while worshipers would pile in with donations for the temples. They’d bring lavish foods and milk to make offerings which would just end up in the garbage afterwards. This has never made sense to me. I agree that being devout should suffice and if you’re fortunate enough, a greater effort should be made to help those in need.

It saddens me whenever I hear about or witness this kind of behaviour amongst any religious or racial group. If people who share the same basic principles and a similar upbringing can’t treat each other with fairly, how can people expect others to?

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7/15/2013 23:51:43

Thanks for sharing your insights with me Ajani. I'm glad that we could draw parallels from our experiences and see the absurdity in the current practices taking place. Why do you think they throw the food away instead of distributing it back to the poor?

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WeeklyEmail
7/14/2013 19:28:15

I agree with all that you have said. I have read all the comments and I'm here to share a personal exp of mine at Masjid e Al Haram which had left me close to tears, since this was the last place on earth that I thought this incident could occer at. I had least expected it; I guess my bubble burst rather quickly then of late.

To start off, It saddens me that not much has changed in the Kingdom since my departure from it back in 2004. Your post brought back many memories of my childhood. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and my parents used to take annual summer trips to the two holy mosques; the traveling was done in a car and it was a 14/16 hrs drive (oh how I miss those days). It is quite sad to see that Makkah and Medina the holiest of holy places in the Islamic World are still facing problems. People still beg near the holy mosques; while it being strictly prohibited and kidnappings do happen. I had came close to a kidnapping incident myself. One time I was waiting for my dad near a door of Masjid e al haram ( In Makkah) and then all of a sudden a stranger came up to me and said "Come with me".. I will help you do wudu ( ablution).. I knew he was up to something so I started screaming on top of my lungs and he quickly sped off. If it wasnt for me being quick-witted, who knows where I would have been today.
Did you see anything out of the ordinary at Makkah?

A great blog post btw. I loved your insights on your trip to the Kingdom. You should blog more often bro :).

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7/15/2013 23:52:25

That must have been a scary situation to go through. I'm glad I did not misconstrue any information and that you were able to validate my points. Thank you!

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    Zain

    As an avid listener of instincts and humanity, I strive to do things that put me out of my comfort zone. Cherishing the growth that comes along with this habit and all the beauty that life has to offer, I'd like to share my experiences with you. 

    All posts and opinions expressed are mine and completely independent of the University of Waterloo and the International Development program.

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