In an article I wrote for this column shortly before self-isolation, I had mentioned the possibility that this year Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, might be canceled. Current developments indicate this is where we’re headed. It is a fact that the concern of the Islamic world and Muslims that they may not be able to fulfill their compulsory act of worship this year is a greater threat than the coronavirus. The lack of any serious preparation in this regard shows that Hajj will be postponed this year – or that it will at least be a bitter Hajj season.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, whose economy is on a downward trend, will be deprived of Hajj revenues totaling $12 billion. Additionally, the country’s budget balances have turned upside down with the impact of declining crude prices. Thus, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan stood before the people and declared that painful measures will be taken like never before. Besides this, debates surrounding Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s obsession, the cross-border city Neom, which came up on the agenda with the 2030 vision and whose construction is continuing at full speed, reports such as the murder of a tribal member who refused to give up his land in the adjacent area have led to a negative impact on the Saudi public.
The reality behind the “Ottoman Porticos” issue, which Taha Kılınç mentioned in his article yesterday, and has recently been occupying Saudi social media is the prevalent dissatisfaction and that Saudi Arabia is in fact at a crossroad. Hence, the claim that the porticos belong not to the Ottomans but to Uthman, one of Prophet Muhammad’s “four rightly guided caliphs,” is nothing other than an attempt to postpone the real problems by turning public attention to a different direction.
Anti-Ottoman sentiment that has repeatedly been recycled in the regional competition with Turkey has reached new dimensions. Such that, at a time when our world is going through a dark tunnel, as if there is no other matter, the services provided by Ottoman Sultans, who used the title “the protector of the two sanctuaries,” to the Kaaba have been opened to discussion. Whereas this has already been confirmed numerous times with the studies conducted by the Saudis themselves. The Encyclopedia of Hajj, which is being prepared by Darat al-Malik Abdulaziz, the country’s official history institution, focuses mostly on these services.
Besides those by Turkish researchers, there are significant studies covering this topic by both Arab and other non-Muslim historians. Additionally, there are masters and Ph.D. dissertations that I personally mentored. In other words, the Ottomans’ services to the two sanctuaries (Haramayn) were confirmed by history.
Social media cannot change this truth. However, it will be many years before the hostility formed between the two countries through the confusion of minds and history can be repaired. For example, Suraiya Faroqhi’s book, “Pilgrims and Sultans,” which is available in many languages, already has the answers to today’s delirium, as it revealed the truth about Ottoman Sultans’ hajj and haramayn services decades ago. In addition to my numerous other articles, “Hac ve İktidar: Haremeyn’de Erken Dönem Osmanlı İmar Faaliyetleri” (Pilgrimage and Power: Early Period Reconstruction Work in the Haramayn), a comprehensive article I wrote in 2017 for the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Foundation University Journal of Scientific Research clearly reveals these services with supporting documents.
Since such a discussion has been started, I have taken it upon myself to do my part and reiterate these services once again with a couple of articles I will be publishing here. I am going to mention the heritage discussions from the Ottoman era to date, and finally the “hajj administration” matter promised by Abdulaziz bin Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.
During the Egypt expedition by Ottoman Sultan Selim the Grim in 1517, the Hejaz area that includes Mecca and Medina (Haramayn) was under Ottoman administration. Barakat II, who was the sharif of Mecca at the time, sent his son Abu Numay and a delegation to the sultan in Cairo and declared his voluntary devotion to the Ottoman Empire. As a matter of fact, the sacred relics, which are frequently being brought up these days, were personally gifted to the sultan by Abu Numay.
After this date onward, the Ottoman Empire took care of the Haramayn not only because it is the qiblah (direction of prayer) for Muslims but it also took responsibility as a ruler would with respect to a region and people under its rule. The regulations asserted and aid given by Sultan Selim while he was in Egypt contributed greatly to the economic development of the Haramayn. He had resumed the reconstruction of the historical infrastructure of Mecca, which is largely destroyed today, as well as the Kaaba and its surrounding area. As soon as Hejaz came under Ottoman rule, the sultan established new foundations in addition to those already existing, and allocated some of the revenues in Egypt to these foundations. For example, prior to returning from his Egypt expedition, the sultan endowed the revenues of nine villages for the Kaaba’s cover alone. Sultan Selim, who started to serve the Haramayn like the just sultans before him, is also the first Ottoman sultan to use the title, “Protector of the Two Noble Sanctuaries.” After Sultan Selim, service to the Haramayn and ensuring the order of hajj affairs had become included among the absolute duties of sultans.
Sultan Selim had sent the delegation that traveled from Hejaz to Cairo with 200,000 gold dinars to be distributed as gifts to the people of the Haramayn. As a result, the hearts of the people of Hejaz and pilgrims were won with the gold distributed to 12,000 citizens that year, and the service to the Haramayn became their legacy.