Hajj Hysteria

For only the second time since the attacks on our country two Septembers ago, has the Justice Department elevated the national color-coded threat level to orange, indicating a “high” risk of a terrorist attack. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the government had received intelligence information that Osama bin Laden’s terror organization sought to attack Americans at home or abroad during the time of the annual hajj pilgrimage to the holy Arabian city of Mecca. The five-day hajj involving millions of Muslim pilgrims from every nation culminates this week. However, to elevate the national security level to again conveniently coincide with an Islamic holiday does nothing more than perpetuate the notion that this “war on terror” is actually a war on Islam.

Hajj is one of the most sacrosanct tenets of Islam. The Hajj represents the struggles and messages of prophets past, and is a testament to every Muslim’s belief in Allah, the monotheistic deity of the prophet Abraham. The ancient rites of Hajj have been passed down through the annals of Islamic history. It serves as a constant reminder of our human mortality and fallibility. The different rites of Hajj exemplify the plights of our beloved prophets. During Hajj, every Muslim’s focused aspirations must be to re-enact the experiences of the Prophet Abraham, whose selfless sacrifice has no parallel in the history of humankind. Hajj also symbolizes the lessons taught by Abraham’s son, Ismail, whose example of obedience and submission cannot be duplicated by any living being; and the final prophet, Muhammad, who firmly stood on the plains of Arafat and proclaimed the completion of his mission which solidified and sealed the Sovereignty of one Creator over all of creation. The essence of Hajj embodies the zenith of a Muslim’s plight towards worldly purification, repentance and spiritual renewal. Instead of issuing the alert highlighting the culmination of Hajj, perhaps President Bush would have been more accurate in associating the greater terrorist threat to his bombastic rhetoric in attacking Iraq.

The amalgamation of the impending invasion on Iraq and the recent heightening of our national security level is something that President Bush and his cowboy cronies should ponder heavily before storming into Baghdad on their blazing saddles. It seems quite evident that the new alert level is due more to the imminent invasion of Iraq than it is due to the congregation of Muslims half a world away in Arabia. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, D-Ohio, a leading congressional opponent of war with Iraq, said the change in alert level provided evidence that “[Bush’s] march to war, far from making our nation more secure, has raised the threat to Americans.” Even some patriots paid to attacks other countries are showing their discontent with the Bush regime’s unfettered zeal to obliterate innocent Iraqis. Former generals like Norman Schwarzkopf, Anthony Zinni and Wesley Clark have all expressed concern about the rush to war.

“Candidly, I have gotten somewhat nervous at some of the pronouncements [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld has made,” General Schwarzkopf told The Washington Post, adding: “I think it is very important for us to wait and see what the inspectors come up with.” Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times quotes General Anthony Zinni as saying about Bush and his hawks: “I’m not sure which planet they live on, because it isn’t the one that I travelé[If] we intend to solve this through violent action, we’re on the wrong course.”

This is not the first time a terrorist alert has opportunely been timed to coincide with a Muslim holiday. In the past, similar government alerts were issued during the month of Ramadan. Although Muslim Americans are committed to protecting humanity as mandated by Islam, we categorically reject the insinuation that Islamic traditions and terrorism are inextricably linked. Instead, we should focus on a son hell bent on waging an unjust war and jeopardizing American lives in order to reclaim the sins of his father from two presidencies past.

Arsalan Iftikhar serves as Midwest Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He attends Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.