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Hajj Diaries (III)- About Inequality and Racism

There is a common joke about Fulanis and Hajj. Actually, there are many jokes, but my favourite is about the man who travelled for Hajj…

There is a common joke about Fulanis and Hajj. Actually, there are many jokes, but my favourite is about the man who travelled for Hajj and was called by his name without the ‘Alhaji’ prefix. 

‘Kar ku saake kira na ba tare da kun sa Alhaji ba! Makkah bana mai wahala nan!’ 

Well, he is right about one thing: This Hajj has been difficult. To be entirely honest, every Hajj is difficult, we are just blessed to have amnesia when we return. Because if we could remember every emotion, every muscle pain, cough and physical push, Wallahi nobody would return. At least, not for the purposes of Hajj. I ache in muscles, I did not know existed. So yes, henceforth, I am Hajia Doctor! Ehen! 

Like many countries, there are many ugly things about KSA, but today I want to focus solely on Racism and Inequality. 

It is an open secret that Arab societies are the most racist in the world. At a time when racism is being attacked and ferociously fought in the West, so much so that discrimination is subtle and one actually has to think: ‘Wait o! Was that man being nice or racist by saying that I speak good English?’, my dear Arabs have done absolutely nothing to disguise their blatant racism. If anything, the racism in KSA has only gotten worse. 

Let me give you a few examples for clarity. 

Since COVID, the Haramain security have devised new methods of crowd control. They try to gauge the number of people doing Tawaf at any given time and give preference to only those in Ihraam. As a result, the entry into the Tawaaf area (ground floor) is cordoned off at specific times and opened only after prayer times or when the population doing Tawaf has reduced. Entry into Masjid Haram via selected gates is also heavily barricaded and so we are forced to go farther, thereby prolonging our journey. I thought this act was uniform, until I saw the barricade opened and people were being allowed to pass. In my naivety, I motioned to my friends that a path had been opened only for the security to scream in our faces ‘Arabiya Bas!’ (Only Arabs!). It suddenly dawned on me that he was allowing only white people through the barricade. The realisation brought about an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Racism? In a Masjid? For what? That only white Arabs should have a shortcut into a mosque that we would all eventually enter? Where we would end up doing Tawaf together? Praying side by side together? What sense did it make?

This year KSA introduced the Mecca Metro train services which was operated during the period of Hajj with 5 types of train movements throughout the entire day. It was built by China Railway Construction Corporation (CCRCC) and operated by Mecca Mass Rail Transit Company (MMRTC). This innovation has brought so much relief to the majority of pilgrims who do not stay within walking distance of the Jamrat. This year, we happily walked to the metro station and rode to Mina 3 (Jamrat). At the station, while walking down to the actual stoning area, the security officials created an artificial path for Arabs only. They openly shouted ‘Arabiya, yameen’ (Arabs to the right), and then proceeded to put them on vehicles which conveyed them directly to the 4th floor of the Jamrah while they rest of us trudged on from the station. I suppose they think we should be happy they allowed us on the train. Well, I am not. I am incensed! 

After the customary stoning on the third day, we proceeded to go to Makkah from Mina. Here again, we had another dose of racial discrimination. I do not suffer from hearing loss and so imagine my confusion when the buses I heard calling ‘Haram, Haram’ denied going to Masjid Haram. Ya Akhi, did I not just hear you calling for passengers to Haram? The brown Pakistanis, Indians and Benghalis were also denied access to the bus. Hian! I honestly thought the bus was filled and so decided to go to the next bus when other Nigerians passing by told us not to bother. The Busses were for Arabs only. Sure enough, some Egyptians behind us came and waltzed into the bus. When I asked a security man what they expected us to do, he honestly pointed us in the right direction: down in the direction of Bin Dawood where taxis converged, some forty-five minutes’ walk away. Suffice it to say, the next day I woke up with severe muscle cramps. 

One of the reasons for this heightened racial discrimination I surmise, is due to the fact that for the past two years, Hajj has been limited to only citizens of the country and some neighbouring Arab countries. In that interim, some staff have retired and some have been newly employed, thus have not had any interaction with international pilgrims. Because, for the life of me, I cannot understand how we can claim to be Muslim, all of us facing Al-qiblah and yet be so openly racist and bigoted. What gives?

Years ago, I remember hearing a former minister of the Saudi government on radio talking about the difficulties they face during Hajj. In the discussion about illegal immigration, visa procurement and accommodation, he openly admitted that if they could ban any country from coming for Hajj, it would be Nigeria.

Every time I come to this country, I am reminded of the inequality and racism that exists. In the West, America to be precise, there is some semblance of sanity. Most organisations, especially government organisations are equal opportunity employers. There is opportunity for growth and so, a black person from Uganda can one day rise and become a top shot. Even in Medical residency placements in the US where we complain that the juicy, high paying specialties like Radiology and Neuro surgery are reserved for the whites, while specialties with high litigation issues like O&G and paediatrics are heavily populated by Asians and Africans, the degree of inequality is arguable. This is not the case in the Arab world. Here, only they deserve the right to top managerial positions. The lower the jobs, the darker the colour of the employees. It is almost impossible to find an Arab taxi driver; it is exclusively populated by the Indian population. All the mosque cleaners are Bangladesh. Small retail shop owners are Chinese/Pakistanis/Indians. In Middle eastern countries like Dubai, the story is the same.

One of the memories that will haunt me forever is the faces of the cleaners in Jamrah, as they stand in the scorching sun, without any sunshade, holding those awful green trash bags, their brown faces expressionless, resigned to their fates as second-class citizens. Saudi Arabia immigration laws are the most difficult to navigate in the entire world. Residents are given permits only as long as their work contracts permit. Furthermore, even as temporary residents there are services that you are not entitled to. Their schools are still heavily segregated, the better the school, the more Arabian the population. Nigerian doctors who work here complain bitterly about racism and inequality depending on the province in which they are posted. Generally, the racism is worse in urban cities than in rural areas. 

The fight against systemic racism and inequality is nowhere near success. The only reason we do not berate Saudi Arabia is because of religion. We foolishly assume that because they are Muslims, we are brothers in faith. Yet, the reality is that the average Arab feels superior to every other race. It is a sad and depressing truth.

May we see the end of systemic racism, if not in our lifetime, then in that of our children, ameen.