Hajj and Qurbani: Their impact on the economies of poor countries

By Mohammad Asghar


The early part of 2005 will bring an occasion, when a large number of Muslims from all over the globe will flock to Mecca of Saudi Arabia to perform their yearly pilgrimage. Known as hajj, it requires each pilgrim to sacrifice at least one animal before it is declared complete. Others, who will not be able to go to Mecca for any reason, will slaughter a large number of animals in their home countries in the name of Allah.


Though the rituals of hajj have been taking place for almost 1,400 years, but it is not known if an objective study was ever carried out to find out what impact these rituals have been having on the economies of the poor Muslim countries of the world.


I was born and raised in Bangladesh-a predominantly Muslim country. I know how poor my country is, and also, how its poor masses have been surviving for generations. Keeping these two factors in mind, I am writing this article to draw Muslims� attention to the baneful effect that hajj and the ritual of killing numerous animals to please Allah have been having on their nations� economies from the day hajj was made one of the pillars of their religion.


Actually, if we read carefully the Quran through which Muslims have been instructed to perform hajj at least once in their lifetime, we will find that hajj was made obligatory only for the Muslims of the Arabian Peninsula. Not only that, even its entire contents and the religion of Islam were also intended only for them, and not for anyone else. The following verse of the Quran supports this fact:


Verse 42:7: �Thus have We sent by inspiration to thee {i.e. Muhammad} an Arabic Quran: that thou mayest warn the Mother of Cities {i.e. Mecca} and all around her, - and warn (them) of the Day of Assembly, of which there is no doubt: (when) some will be in the Garden, and some in the Blazing Fire.�


The speaker in the verse is Allah. His instruction, given to Muhammad through inspiration, as mentioned in the verse, is clear: He wanted him to preach the gospels of his religion only to the Arabs, who lived in Mecca and all around her. Because the religion of Islam was designed exclusively for those people, Allah revealed the contents of the Quran to Muhammad only in Arabic so that they could understand them without facing any difficulty.


Allah�s instruction on the rituals of hajj was also intended for compliance by the Peninsular Arabs only. This is deducible from the following verse of the Quran:


2:196: �And complete the Hajj or �Umra in the service of Allah. But if ye are prevented (from competing it), send an offering for sacrifice, such as ye may find, and do not shave your heads until offering reaches the place of sacrifice. �� (I have snipped the remaining part of the verse, as it is irrelevant to my discussion).


Allah asked those intending pilgrims, who are prevented from physically completing their hajj, to send offerings to Mecca, and not to shave their heads until their offerings have reached the place of sacrifice. This instruction came down to the Muslims in the 7th century, when there hardly existed any easy means of transportation between Mecca and, say, the Indian sub-continent.


Let us now consider the following scenario, keeping in mind the constraints of the old days: Mr. X, a Muslim from Calcutta, decided to perform his hajj, say, in the 14th century, when almost all of India had fallen to the Muslim rulers. After reaching Bombay, he fell sick. As instructed by the Quran, he is now in need of sending an offering to Mecca for sacrifice there on his behalf.


Finding a surrogate, who is willing to physically carry his sacrifice to Mecca, he buys a sheep and dispatches him on his journey to the place of sacrifice. Given the fact that there existed, in those days, no steamer or airline service between Bombay and the present-day Saudi Arabia, can we imagine how many months, if not years, the substitute hajji would have taken to reach his destination safely, with the sheep in his toe?


Conversely, let us suppose that an Arab Muslim from Medina failed to reach Mecca for hajj due to an illness. He, therefore, arranges one of his relatives to carry an offering to the place of sacrifice. Do we know how long a time his offering was going to take to reach Mecca?


A few days, at best. The carrier of his offering reaches the place of sacrifice not only in a few days� time; he also avails himself of the occasion, when all pilgrims sacrifice their offerings on the Id Day in the valley of Mina.


From the contents of the two Quranic verses, it is clear that:


1. The religion of Islam was intended only for the people of the Arabian Peninsula;


2. And that the rituals of hajj and Qurbani (animal sacrifice) were also meant only for them.


Despite the fact that the Quran does not require non-Arab Muslims to carry out the rituals of hajj and Qurbani, a large number of them from all over the world spend colossal amounts of money every year on them. This they have been doing, one generation after another, without realizing the devastating effects their actions have been having on their national economies. The following illustration may be a �food for thought� for those Muslims of Bangladesh who hold the wellbeing of their country to their hearts:


Bangladesh is a small country with a population of over 144 Million people. Unemployment is rampant. Its people�s per capita income in 2004 was a paltry sum of $400.00 dollars.


The government of Bangladesh cannot implement even small but very important projects, like the immunization of its people, without foreign help.  It can neither buy important diagnostic equipment for its hospitals nor can it afford to feed a large number of poor people, who survive by begging and scavenging the trashcans of their  rich compatriots.


Yet, Bangladesh decided to permit 40,000 of its Muslim citizens to perform their hajj in 2005. Out of this number, 10,000 will be traveling to Mecca on the concession fare the government-owned Airline has agreed to charge them. Still, each of the 10,000 pilgrims will require to pay Tk.130,000 or approximately $ 2,200.00 to the government for covering the royalty it has to pay, on their behalf, to the Saudi government, airfare and a simple lodging in Mecca. This amount does not include the money each pilgrim will have to spend on buying at least one sacrificial animal, nor does it include other essential expenses that they will require to incur during their stay there. Therefore, each pilgrim is expected to spend at least another $300.00 on these accounts, which means that each of the 10,000 pilgrims will be spending at least $2,500.00 on their hajj related matters.


The total amount, to be squandered by only 10,000 pilgrims in Bangladesh�s hard-earned foreign currency, will be a large sum of about $25 Million Dollars.


The remaining 30,000 pilgrims will be traveling with their own arrangements. Since they will not be entitled to discounted fares from the Airlines and, as many of them will be traveling in Business Class and be staying in expensive hotels in Mecca, each one of them is expected to spend at least $5,000.00 on their pilgrimage the next year. In all, 30,000 Bangladeshis are expected to waste approximately $150 Million Dollars on the rituals of hajj and Qurbani, both of which the Quran does not require them to undertake ever in their lives.


In addition to spending a staggering sum of approximately $175 Million Dollars by 50,000 Bangladeshi Muslims on their hajj and Qurbani, at least 500,000 of them will be slaughtering, if not more but at least, an equal number of animals all over their country. Estimating that each animal, on an average, is likely to cost about $300.00, the total amount they will be throwing away into the drain in the name of a ritual that is harmful for them as well as for their country is expected to be around $150 Million Dollars.


All together, 40,000 pilgrims and approximately 500,000 non-pilgrim Muslims of poor Bangladesh are expected to make their country poorer in 2005 by approximately $325 Million Dollars. This will happen, despite the fact that most of this money is likely to come from those wage-earners who toil day and night in foreign lands to earn a few hundred dollars a month. Bangladeshis will squander this huge amount of money, despite the fact that a large number of its people, living in its northern part, do not get any food, when suffering from monga, to feed themselves and their children. This colossal wastage will take place, despite the fact that many of its farmers do not have a pair of oxen to till their lands.


I urge all patriotic Muslims of Bangladesh to rise up and to stop their ill-informed brethren from squandering their meager resources on rituals that their religion does require them to perform. I urge them to stand up and ask their government not only to discourage its citizens from undertaking hajj but also to prevent its officials, including the Prime Minister, from performing Umra every now and then at the cost of the people.


I believe that Bangladesh can overcome its present situation, if its people are motivated to stand up against all kinds of wastages. Like the rituals of hajj and Qurbani, corruption has also been eating into their nation�s vital economic veins. By plugging only these two dangerous drains of wastage and plunder, they can save for themselves at least a billion dollars a year. And with this huge sum of money, they can, over a period of time, not only free their country from its abject poverty, this would also save them from all kinds of humiliations they have been suffering regularly at the hands of their donors.


Should not the Muslims of Bangladesh opt for national wellbeing, prosperity, respect and dignity in place of unnecessary religious dogmas, and lead themselves to a position, which will allow them to stand up, among the people of other nations, with their heads high?


December 18, 2004


Mohammad Asghar writes from USA. 

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