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Anti-Sunni Propaganda By Pro-Tehran Media Include Absurd Propaganda Against Saudi Arabia

29 September 2015

By Rasheed Abou-AlSamh

The concerted campaign of defamation against Saudi Arabia by its enemies has been ramped up recently, with the exodus of Syrian refugees to Europe just one of the reasons used to attack and unfairly criticize the Kingdom. Why hasn't the Kingdom taken in a single Syrian refugee, asked many? Why doesn't the Kingdom use the thousands of air-conditioned tents in Mina used to house pilgrims during the Haj for only five days a year to house some of the refugees, asked others maliciously. One writer, a Muslim doctor from India even wrote that he would never undertake the Haj, even though he claimed to be a devout Muslim, because he thought that those participating in the pilgrimage were being hypocritical in supposedly ignoring the suffering of their fellow Muslims in Syria!

What nonsense! First of all, the tents in Mina are for use during the Haj, and are located outside Makkah. It would not be reasonable or very humane to house thousands of Syrian refugees there for months on end. Living in a refugee camp by definition is rather wretched. Second, why cannot Hajis both perform their Islamic duty and care for Syrian refugees by sending them prayers and money? The two things are not mutually excludable.

Next there was the rumor, never confirmed by any Saudi official that I know of, that the Kingdom had offered to build 200 mosques in Germany for the Syrian refugees. This caused a negative reaction among some German politicians, who criticized the alleged offer by saying that the refugees needed economic assistance more than mosques. This rumor served again to make the Kingdom look bad, not that mosques for the refugees would be a bad thing, but in terms of priorities this was seen in the West as insensitive and helped play on the fears of some right-wing Germans that Muslims want to take over their society with their mosques and Sharia law.

Finally, the tragedy of the stampede at Mina on Thursday, that killed more than 700 pilgrims and left more than 800 seriously wounded, is again being used by the Kingdom's enemies to unfairly attack it and once again say that the organization and running of the Haj should be taken out of Saudi hands. This is frankly ridiculous given the billions of riyals spent by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Saudi government in improving all of the pilgrimage sites, from the massive expansions of the Two Holy Mosques; to the building of the light rail linking Mina, Arafat and Muzadalifah; to the new expanded bridges and tunnels in Mina, and the high-speed rail line that is being built to link Madinah to Makkah through Jeddah and its airport.

I have been reading many uninformed comments online following the Mina tragedy asking why the Kingdom has not hired crowd control experts to study the Haj. If they did just a little bit of research they would know that the Kingdom has had a Haj Research Center since 1975. At first it was part of King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and then in 1983 it was transferred to Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah. In 1998, its name was changed to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute of Haj Research.

Through the Haj Research Center and the Ministry of Haj, the Kingdom has hired hundreds of experts, many of them foreign, to study the Haj and come up with new crowd-control practices in order to make the whole journey safer for everyone. The Saudi government has also kept a tight grip on pilgrim quotas from each Muslim country because of the physical and geographical limitations of Makkah, Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina. This is to ensure a comfortable and safe Haj for everyone involved. Even so, every year Muslim countries complain that their quota of Haj visas is not big enough. This year the number of pilgrims was kept to around 2 million, down from 3 million in 2012, mostly because of the expansion work in Makkah and Madinah, which has restricted the available areas inside the two holy mosques.

The stampede at Mina seems to have happened when two groups of pilgrims came face to face, coming from opposite directions on a one-way street. The very high heat, above 40 degrees Celsius, the fervor of many of the pilgrims who wanted to get to the Jamarat area quickly to stone the Devil, and the big bags being carried by many of the pilgrims all contributed to the disaster. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has ordered a full investigation of the accident, so we should all wait to see the results of it. After the fateful crane crash in the Holy Haram on Sept. 11 the king ordered an investigation, blamed the Binladen construction company for negligence and barred their executives from leaving the country, and swiftly announced monetary compensation for all of the victims. That is far from sweeping it under the carpet, and we can be sure that the same is being done in the Mina investigation.

Saudi Arabia's enemies should be ashamed of themselves for trying to score political points against the Kingdom by using the innocent victims of these tragedies. If the Kingdom had been truly negligent in taking care of the pilgrims, I don't think anyone would object to such criticisms. But when the Kingdom has spent billions of riyals and man-hours planning and improving the various pilgrimage areas, it is not only unfair to blame the Kingdom for these disasters. It is downright cynical. What we really need are constructive suggestions on how to make the Haj safer for everyone involved.

Anti-Sunni Propaganda By Pro-Tehran Media Flayed

Some UK newspapers have come in for intense criticism for publishing incorrect stories about the reasons for the stampede in Mina on Thursday.

Colin Freeman, the chief foreign correspondent for The Telegraph, was criticized on social media for a story alleging that ''the deadly crush had been caused by police closing two road entrances because of a visit by VIPs to the nearby palace of King Salman.''

In reality, the stampede took place on a street which is far from the palace. Journalists who are aware of the topography of the area laughed both at the spurious story and at the writer's ignorance.

''Rather than accepting wild allegations, he should have crosschecked with people on the ground concerning the location of Street No. 204 (where the tragedy occurred) and the location of King Salman's palace,'' said Jamil Radwan, an Egyptian journalist who is covering Haj. ''The two are poles apart. Also, there is absolutely no VIP movement in that area,'' he reiterated.

In a statement to the media, Saudi Ambassador to the UK, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, said claims that the stampede had occurred because of VIP movements were completely false. ''This is a malicious falsehood which has no basis whatsoever in truth. The vehicles of Saudi dignitaries do not travel through this area,'' he said and explained the source of the rumor.

''To the best of our knowledge, the rumor originated on Iranian state-controlled channels, Press TV and Lebanese Adiyar, which recently falsely claimed that 200 mosques were being built in Germany by Saudi Arabia for Syrian refugees.''

He said it was unfortunate that mainstream British newspapers had accepted the story as true without checking the reliability of the sources.

Saudi security analyst Nawaf Obaid said: ''It is a classic case of amateur journalism by certain UK media outlets. (They) have created a parallel fictional reality.''

Prince Mohammed said that King Salman had ordered a full investigation into the cause of the catastrophe and as soon as the results are known, they will be made public.

Muslim World League chief also denounced Iranian criticism of Saudi Arabia.

''Irresponsible statements from some Iranian officials are aimed at harming Saudi Arabia and its leaders,'' said MWL Secretary-General Abdullah Al-Turki. ''They want to harm Muslims who have faith in Saudi Arabia and its leadership which serves the two holy mosques.''

''What kind of news story is that?'' asked Saudi writer and educator Khaled Al-Awadh on his Twitter account in response to Freeman of The Telegraph.

British journalist Ismaeel Nakhuda said the majority of Western media had no idea about the geography of Haj sites and so they often made mistakes.

In response, some suggested that the opportunity should be used to educate journalists about Mina and the Haj rituals. ''One radio station suggested (creation of) shopping malls in Mina,'' said a representative of the Council of British Hajis.

A Saudi, who tweets with the handle @nawaf442, posted a tweet in which he said: ''Just for information: A stampede at a stadium in Sheffield, England, during a Liverpool vs Nottingham match, attended by 40,000 spectators resulted in 100 deaths.'' That tweet was reproduced 15,000 times.

A pilgrim from Pakistan, Mohammed Omar Ali Khan, said it was very unfortunate that some people and countries were indulging in politics over the dead bodies of the pilgrims.

''It is very shameful. May Allah give those countries guidance and lead them to respect the dead. I will forgive the media because they don't know about our rituals and the topography.'' 



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