As excruciating details have leaked over the past two weeks about the killing and reported dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents, the most high-profile public backlash has come in the form of defections from a glittery upcoming conference, the Future Investment Initiative, planned by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, along with dozens of other politics, business, and media figures, have pulled out of the so-called Davos in the Desert because of scrutiny around the case and the crown prince’s likely involvement. They don’t want to be associated with an event designed to bolster the image of (and enrich) a brutal regime and prince that might kill a dissident and barely try to hide it. Go figure.
But for me, there’s another annual gathering in Saudi Arabia that comes to mind. It’s an essential and religiously required journey for Muslims: the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam. My mom told it was the greatest moment of her life when she went. In Arabic, my father asked me to pray for him when I make it. At 29, I still haven’t been able to afford it, but I remember the look in my parents’ eyes after I told them I was saving my money for the expensive trip. It was pure emotion—a clear affirmation of their parenting. Personally, I’ve always dreamed of converging with fellow Muslims on the location believed to be the birthplace of our final prophet, and where the first words of the Quran were revealed: Iqra. Read.
Now I’m starting to wonder how I can go at all. And I’m also wondering why more Muslims don’t question the powers that control our most sacred site—and how the Saudis have already twisted it to their own political and financial ends. [Continue reading…]