The Huffington Post November 9, 2011
The Prophet's Shrine, Medina.
Hajj is a duty required of all Muslim believers who can afford it: one of the five pillars of Islam along with the profession of faith, prayer, payment of charity and fasting at Ramadan. Hajj is a ritual journey to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, during five days in the Hajj month (Zu’l-Hijja) that concludes the Islamic lunar (hijri) year. Each of its elements recalls an event in the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham), his female servant Hagar, their son Ismail (Ishmael) and Muhammad.
In 2011, according to the Western calendar, Hajj began on Nov. 5. Hajj continues with the four-day Eid al-Adha observances in Mecca and in Muslim communities around the world. Eid al-Adha, known as Kurban Bairam among Turkic and Balkan Muslims, and as Eid-e-Ghorban in Persian, will last from Nov. 6 through Nov. 9. Eid al-Adha includes a special morning prayer service.
The annual Hajj-month journey to Mecca is not the only way a Muslim may undertake a pilgrimage to Islam’s most sacred site, which is the location toward which Muslims pray. Many of the faithful travel to Mecca for Umrah, a “lesser Hajj” involving fewer people and limited ritual practices. Umrah may be completed at any time during the year.
With Muslims counting between 1 billion and 1.5 billion in today’s world, one may ask why the full Hajj is only undertaken by some 2 million people annually. This is perplexing given the ease and low cost of air travel and the resources available to the Saudi authorities. But since the seizure of the holy city by the House of Sa’ud and the Wahhabi clerics in 1924, Hajj, which should be a glorious occasion in the life of every Muslim, has seen its capacity for spiritual fulfillment diminished. Before the Wahhabi takeover, Hajj travellers from Egypt came to Mecca accompanied by music, which the Wahhabis banned. In addition, distinctive customs observed by Shiite pilgrims were prohibited under the Saudis.
Continue reading Hajj: What It Has Become and What It Should Be Again by Stephen Schwartz
The Weekly Standard Blog, March 8, 2010
The crisis of the Libyan dictatorship has shamed a number of prominent personalities in academia and culture, who benefited from Qaddafi’s random, but typically excessive, spending on whatever he and his family desired. London School of Economics (LSE) director Sir Howard Davies resigned from his job on March 4, in response to disclosure that the school had accepted a donation of 1.5 million British pounds from the Libyan dictator. Among the British intellectual elite, that news was followed by the resignation of Sir Richard Roberts, 1993 winner of a Nobel Prize in medicine, from the board of the Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which gave Libyan money to the LSE. In the less elevated environment of pop culture, singers Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé Knowles, Mariah Carey, Timbaland, and 50 Cent have all admitted they were paid exorbitant sums to entertain the Qaddafis.
These revelations call to mind similar shenanigans a quarter of a century ago. Then, Qaddafi’s financial backing was provided to the British actress and veteran anti-Israel agitator, Vanessa Redgrave, her younger brother Corin, who died last year, and a Trotskyist sect to which they belonged, the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP). That story was briefly noted in the normal world, if not ignored, and then forgotten. But in the context of recent developments, it deserves reexamination.
The WRP probably never had more than 500 members and occupied an insignificant place in British politics. It was run in totalitarian fashion by a man named Thomas Gerard (Gerry) Healy, who was born in Ireland, and died in Britain in 1989, at 76. Yet in the 1970s the party was flush with cash, which others in the European and American Trotskyist movements presumed came from the Redgraves and their peers in the British theatre and film industries. Vanessa Redgrave had unsuccessfully run for Parliament as a WRP candidate. The WRP even founded a daily newspaper in London, first called Workers Press and then NewsLine, which continues to appear.
Continue reading Qaddafi, Vanessa Redgrave, and Their Adventures by Stephen Schwartz