Every year pilgrims flooded the holy city to offer homage to their gods. Animals were sacrificed. Places near the holy site were rented out for accommodation. Each year, the time of the pilgrimage was the most crucial time of the year that allowed the merchants to earn enough profits to last them a year. The gods were their business which they shamelessly indulged in. Supernormal profits earned via the pilgrims that had travelled from far off places enabled the locals to live lavish lives throughout the year. The custodians of the ‘house of god’ reaped great profits from this annual pilgrimage. Pilgrimage was only something that the rich could afford. There was no way a poor man could travel all the way to the holy city, find accommodation and food there unless he had enough money.

This is perhaps a very typical description of Pre-Islam Arabia. However, while writing this description, modern day Saudi Arabia is what I had in mind. With the Hajj season coming up, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have now started travelling to the holy cities of Makkah and Madina. The Muslim community very proudly boasts about how all the pilgrims are equal irrespective of their financial status; they’re all dressed in the same white cloth, they all recite the same prayers under the same roof. They’re all the same. However, that is far from being the truth.

If you can afford to pay absurd amounts of money, you can stay in a hotel right in front of the Grand Mosque. You might even have the ‘house of god’ visible to you from your room’s window. Your room will be lavish. While you go out to perform your religious obligations, the hotel staff will be busy to ensure that you have nothing to complain about when you come back to the hotel, exhausted after an entire day of praying. Of course, if you are unfortunate in terms of finances, you won’t be able to afford a room anywhere near the Ka’abah. The distance from the Ka’abah to your hotel will be directly proportional to your lack of funds.

The recent tragedy which resulted in the loss of lives of over a hundred people occurred only because the greed of the custodians of the Ka’abah, who wish to further expand this mosque to be able to make money from even more people. The Saudi government, in its attempt to increase its business opportunities, has not only taken the holiness out of worship but has also managed to destroy the historic significance of a number of monuments.  The annual pilgrimage has become a major source of revenue for the Saudi government, just like it was prior to the advent of Islam for the Quraish. While Islam takes pride in how it is the only religion that promotes equality, the fact that the holiest of worships in the religion has become a business leaves this claim worthless. Unless the custodians of the holy mosques decide to bring about a change, the holiness will continue to escape from this form of worship.