As millions of Muslims don robes and flock to Mecca for hajj, a small counter movement to boycott the pilgrimage in protest at Saudi Arabia’s politics has won limited support online.
Although the numbers are dwarfed by the 1.8 million who have arrived in Mecca for Friday’s hajj, more than 100 Muslims from Australia to Tanzania are contributing to a Twitter hashtag #boycotthajj in response to Saudi Arabia’s political record.
They cite its role in the war in Yemen, stance on human rights and unequal treatment of women among top concerns.
“#BoycottHajj is an important discussion for Muslims to have. It is about being critical and recognizing the atrocities that the Saudi regime commits against fellow Muslims,” Mariam Parwaiz, a public health doctor in New Zealand, said on Twitter.
For Ella, attending hajj now would be incompatible with Islam’s wider obligations to stand up to injustice.
“It’s Saudi foreign policy and the oppressive nature of Saudi society that’s stopping me,” the 28-year-old British academic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s not me saying I don’t want to go – I would love to be able to fulfill my religious obligation. But for as long as that would mean being complicit in violence, I won’t do it.”
A Saudi-backed coalition has waged war in Yemen since 2015 and aid workers say some 24 million people – almost 80% of the population – will likely need humanitarian assistance in 2019.
The Gulf kingdom also faces heightened scrutiny over its human rights record after last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.
And women – who have won some high-profile rights – face a barrage of male controls in this socially conservative kingdom.
Riyadh has urged Muslims to focus on worship, not politics.
A Saudi official dismissed the boycott as “unwise” and said its small number of backers stood in sharp contrast to the fact that more pilgrims chose to visit Mecca each year, with countries seeking ever larger hajj quotas.