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