Muslim Pilgrims at Haj Are Worried About Trump's Policies Towards Them

In line for prayers and at meals, some worshippers at the annual pilgrimage just can't stop talking about Donald Trump

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Reuters

Even at Islam's holiest sites and during the most sacred time of year for Muslims, some people cannot stop talking about Donald Trump.

Among one group of American, Canadian and British pilgrims in Mecca this week for the annual haj, the U.S. president and policies they say target Muslims and immigrants are a regular conversation topic.

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 31, 2017.
Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 31, 2017.Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

"People are irritated, angry, somber, a little bit worried," said Yasir Qadhi, an Islamic scholar who travelled from Tennessee for his fourteenth pilgrimage.

"No one that I know is happy at the current circumstances or the current administration. No one, not a single person in this entire gathering."

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as faith leaders make a statement after signing a proclamation declaring a day of prayer in the White House in Washington, D.C., September 1, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump listens as faith leaders make a statement after signing a proclamation declaring a day of prayer in the White House in Washington, D.C., September 1, 2017.Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

As a candidate, Trump proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States. In office, he ordered temporary bans on people from several Muslim-majority countries, which have been blocked by courts that ruled they were discriminatory.

His administration has denied any intention of religious discrimination in the travel ban, saying it is intended purely as a national security measure.

But sharp rhetoric about the threat posed by "radical Islam" that was a central part of his campaign has also drawn accusations he risks alienating more than three million Americans who practice Islam peacefully.

Muslim pilgrims pray outside Namira Mosque on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 31, 2017.
Muslim pilgrims pray outside Namira Mosque on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 31, 2017.Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

Many American Muslims say his stance has fueled an atmosphere in which some may feel they can voice prejudices or attack Muslims without fear of retribution.

'Stop attacking Islam'

Muslim pilgrims gather near Namira Mosque on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 31, 2017
Muslim pilgrims gather near Namira Mosque on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 31, 2017Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

The haj, a five-day ritual which retraces the journey the Prophet Mohammad is believed to have taken 14 centuries ago, is a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

It is the world's largest annual Muslim gathering, with over 2.3 million people attending this year. The faithful come from nearly every country in the world, speaking dozens of languages and sometimes practicing Islam in different ways based on local customs or traditions.

American Wajahat Ali said friends back home had asked him to pray for the United States while on haj, and other pilgrims he met offered sympathies and encouragement that the situation would improve.

Malaysian pilgrim Abdul Azim Zainul Abideen said the president should stop what he called his attacks on Islam.

A man embroiders the Kiswa, a silk cloth covering the Holy Kaaba, ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage, at a factory in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 26, 2017.
A man embroiders the Kiswa, a silk cloth covering the Holy Kaaba, ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage, at a factory in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 26, 2017.Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

"We don't have anything against any Americans or non-Muslims," he said on Friday at a symbolic stoning of the devil, part of the haj rituals.

His sister, 27-year-old Anisa, said she was worried by reports of an uptick in violence against Muslims in the United States "just because of wearing hijab (headscarf) in the streets or just because you have a beard."

Muslims touch the Kaaba at the Grand mosque ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 26, 2017.
Muslims touch the Kaaba at the Grand mosque ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 26, 2017. Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

Saudi Arabia, which stakes its reputation on organizing the haj, has urged pilgrims to put aside political concerns and focus on spirituality. But Islamophobia is a common subject at meals and while waiting in long lines to pray and conduct rituals.

"Muslims across the world are now more aware of the different political situation," said Yusuf Badat, an imam from Toronto.

"They're all working together to try and have a better image for themselves because many times the coverage is given to ISIS and these types of fringe groups."

Islamic State has carried out or inspired deadly attacks around the world after proclaiming a self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria to rule over all Muslims. The ultra-violent group has been widely denounced by Muslim religious and political leaders.

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 29, 2017.
Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 29, 2017.Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

Baha al-Deen, a pilgrim from ex-Soviet Georgia, said any labelling of Muslims as terrorists should stop.

"God gave us minds and tongues so we can understand each other and talk about our problems," he said. "Otherwise we will fight like animals."

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