It was the first time I went to umrah, 15 years ago. Like every Muslim who goes for the first time, I was very excited. When I saw Mecca for the first time, I was surprised by two things: The first was the state of poverty and misery of the Muslims of the globe, who come from all corners of the Islamic world and form the community we refer to as the "ummah." The second was the sectarian pressure on pilgrim candidates imposed by the Saudi state that is running the holy cities in filth, disorder and chaos.
Even though I was disturbed by these two factors that lingered over the spiritual atmosphere, I tried to focus on my worship and forget about it. However, every year that I went, it was not the state of the Muslims who appeared poor and ragged that disturbed me, but the pressure the Saudi regime was imposing on me to worship in accordance with the Wahhabi sect.
Why is Mecca and Medina being administered according to the Wahhabi sect?
Saudi police physically and impolitely interfere with those who open their hands toward Mecca and pray, those who embrace the cover of the Kaaba and cry, and those who shed tears in the presence of our Prophet and say, "Haji, haram." In other words, they are saying: "Pilgrim, what you are doing it impermissible."
When I eventually reacted to one of these interventions at our Prophet's masjid in Medina, the police wanted to manhandle and arrest me in that holy masjid.
I was ashamed for sparking a row in the presence of our Prophet inside the masjid. But the police there shamelessly tried to assault me and take me.
My crime was to shed tears in the presence of the Prophet and resist the police that intervened.
I am sure anyone who has performed umrah or Hajj has faced such interference from Saudi police. However, I noted the following in my notebook that day: "Why do I need to perform my worship here according to the Wahhabi sect? Why are Mecca and Medina covered in so much filth, why is it in such an unorganized and miserable state? Why have all our historical heritages, memories, and historical works been destroyed by the Saudi regime, saying it falls into 'shirk' [polythiesm], while nobody said a word? Why is this territory, which is sacred for the Islamic world, not run by a joint commission?"
Saudi Arabia would have no esteem without Mecca and Medina
The Saudi Arabian state considers discussing the status of Mecca and Medina and the way they are run more dangerous than discussing God's existence! Believe me, Saudi Arabia does not perceive this to be solely a matter of the sovereignty of land. The Saudi regime owes all its legitimacy and reputability to the presence of these two holy cities. When Muslims say, "holy lands," the Saudi regime also takes a share from this for itself.
If it was not for Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia would be a country that has petrol and money but no reputability or power, just like Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
This is why, whenever this discussion opens, Riyadh runs like a mad camel.
Just as it runs from discussing this matter, it also fails to fix and improve the miserable state of the holy lands.
Why should the status of Mecca and Medina be discussed?
Now, we need to discuss the status of Mecca and Medina all over again. The sectarian pressure, poor administration and miserable state of the area is not the only problem. Saudi Arabia is now being accused of being a state that killed a man in its consulate, divided him into pieces and eliminated him. In other words, it is no longer a "reliable" state.
Now, whenever someone goes to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a visa, the thought of a man cut up in the building will occur to them. This means that journalists like myself who criticize the Saudi regime are in danger if they go to umrah or Hajj.
Who can guarantee that the Saudi regime will not "slaughter" foreign journalists, writers, scholars - like Jamal Khashoggi - based on the grounds that they are in opposition? Nobody can. In fact, in a statement three days before his disappearance, Khashoggi had said people were arrested in his country arbitrarily and disappeared.
As long as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's regime remains in power, no Saudi consulate, embassy or territory is safe. The life of the pilgrims traveling to those lands is in danger. Anyone going to the embassy or those holy lands may be abducted by the execution team and eliminated like Khashoggi.
So, I ask our religious scholars, our imams: Is it still fard (obligatory) to go to perform Hajj to Saudi Arabia, which is no longer a reliable state or a safe area? Is it wajib (necessary) or not for holy lands to be run by reliable people and states?
A state enslaved by the U.S. is not free
Another reason for the status of Mecca and Medina to change is because of U.S.-Saudi Arabia relations.
With the words “You might not be there for two weeks without us” U.S. President Donald Trump said to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and ordered him publicly to pay up, it became clear that Saudi Arabia has been taken hostage and is under Washington’s control.
In other words, if the administration of the country where the holy lands are located is forcefully enslaved by the U.S., can the security of life, property, and freedom be secured? This Saudi regime is so enslaved by the U.S. that if Washington wanted Mecca and Medina to be closed down tomorrow due to security reasons, it could not stand against it.
This is why these two holy cities need to be turned into an autonomous structure run jointly by Muslim countries. The Saudi regime should have as much say as the other countries.
Mecca and Medina belong to Muslims, not the Saudi dynasty. Therefore, Muslim countries need to take action for our holy cities that are in a miserable state and reach an autonomous structure at once.