By Anees Teladia
With Saudi Arabia poised to host an international music festival in Jeddah mere days before the beginning of the Hajj season, the ummah has expressed outrage and has voiced sharp criticism of the event and against its organisers. The blatant disregard for the sanctity of the Hajj season by the Saudi Kingdom speaks volumes to Muslims internationally and undoubtedly serves as an eye-opener to even the strongest Muslim supporters of the Saudi Kingdom’s leadership.
Political commentators say that the concert is the latest example of the Saudi Kingdom’s attempts to relax its tight restrictions on entertainment. The kingdom is pushing ahead with plans to decrease its reliance on oil income and to introduce modern reforms by launching a myriad of entertainment projects in accordance with Saudi Vision 2030. On social media, many argue that the music festival is inappropriate given its proximity to Makkah – Islam’s holiest site.
The Muslim Judicial Council’s (MJC) secretary general, Shaykh Isgaak Taliep has indicated that the ulema body “shares the sentiments” of those opposed to the festival and that they are taken aback by Saudi Arabia’s decision to host the event.
“One would expect that during this particular period of the year – especially being the Hajj season – that they [Saudi Arabia] would be more sensitive,” said Shaykh Taliep.
“Having said that, one would [also] obviously expect that whatever moves are made by a Muslim government relating to development, would be moves where the community changes and develops in a positive way. One can understand the want to modernise Saudi Arabia and to change the image globally, but not at the expense of our morals.”
The deluge of criticism against the Saudi Kingdom also comes in light of its inviting US rapper, Nicki Minaj to headline the festival. Many accuse Saudi Arabia of extreme hypocrisy for inviting the provocative rapper who is known for her highly sexualized performances and crude lyrics.
Furthermore, given Saudi Arabia’s modest dress code for Muslims, compulsory under the country’s Sharia law, Shaykh Taliep said that the entire concept of the festival and its performers sends a contradictory and confusing message to all Muslims, particularly the youth of Saudi Arabia.
“They’re sending a confusing signal to the young ladies and men in Saudi Arabia…It really boggles the mind,” said Shaykh Taliep.
“One would prefer to see them [Saudi Arabian leaders] tackling serious issues [rather than distracting the public – if that is indeed what they’re doing].”
The United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) has also come out in condemnation of the festival – and Saudi Arabia in this regard – calling the event “sacrilegious”.
“The music festival is the Trojan horse of entertainment, designed to contaminate the most sacred and sanctified lands in the Muslim world. It is meant to lure, enslave and fleece Muslims of their faith, identity and sublime value system.
The music festival may in reality be validating the ‘decree of punishment’ as stated in the Quran: ‘But when it is Our will to destroy a community, We command those of its people who have lost themselves entirely in the pursuit of pleasures, (to desist) but they defiantly disobey therein and thus the decree of (punishment) is passed on it, then We completely destroy it.’ (17:16)
The United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) unequivocally denounces this music festival in the strongest terms and calls upon the Saudi authorities to respect the religious sensibilities of the global Muslim ummah whose spiritual hearts, at this time, are focused, as one, as the Hujjaj are setting off on the most sacred journey of their lives towards the Haram of Makkah and its environs,” read the statement.
Political analyst, Dr Lubna Nadvi has also commented on the issue, saying that the festival undermines the sanctity of the entire area and the Islamic legitimacy of the government.
“It [Saudi Arabia] is considered to be a theocracy…so it’s interesting that these religious laws which would have prohibited and restricted these kinds of activities, such as opening up a night club, are being discarded,” said Nadvi.
“With music concerts being organised, it seems that the places of pilgrimage have now become a site of entertainment. This is, of course, of great concern to many Muslims around the world…it means that these other forms of excess and symbols of modernity and immodesty are going to be held in such close proximity to holy sites – sites which are meant to be places of worship where people leave all these things behind to be in a state of purity. The argument can be made that it does go against the holiness of these sacred sites.”
“What are we going to see next? Alcohol being freely available?”