Amid the prayers, some haj pilgrims talk football

November 26, 2009

mecca-mosqueThe haj is supposed to be a spiritual highlight in a Muslim’s life, but everyday issues can sometimes intrude. In between prayers and visits to various sites, pilgrims often discuss all kinds of current issues. Among Algerians and Egyptians on the haj here this year, the buzz is about the public row sparked by a soccer game to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Algeria won that match 1-0.

(Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, 24 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

The football rivalry has caused considerable bad blood between the two countries. Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Algiers after the play-off, accusing Algerian fans of post-match thuggery at the game’s venue in Khartoum. Egypt had earlier complained when Algerian fans trashed the Algiers headquarters of Egypt-based Orascom Telecom’s Djezzy mobile subsidiary. Before that, Algeria was irked after Egyptian fans pelted the Algerian team’s bus with stones and some fans were hurt in scuffles on game-day in the first round of the qualifier in Cairo.

“We are brothers … This should have never happened and I blame the media in the two countries for instigating ill feelings among the most foolish of us,” said Khaled Salam Abdallah from Cairo.

Mohamed Lab’haj, an Algerian pilgrim, agreed.  “We are more than brothers … The real criminals are the Arab governments. They play with us like they do with a ball … If football had much use in it, they would not have kicked the ball with their feet,” he said.

The haj, a duty for every able Muslim, emphasises the unity of all Muslims. This year’s pilgrimage has offered the first big encounter between Algerian and Egyptian masses since the football showdown. Some 2 million Muslims have come to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

protesters-egyptAbdulwahhab Alyousha, an Algerian pilgrim, said he was outraged that such a spat erupted between two countries that shared a significant part of their modern history.  “Egyptians helped our Algerian revolution. I don’t think this dispute will mar bilateral relationships for good,” he said, referring to the movement which led to Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

(Photo: Egyptian protesters at Algerian embassy in Cairo, 19 Nov 2009/Asmaa Waguih)

Some refused to talk about the issue. “Soccer is a matter of earthly life, we are here to work for our afterlife,” Egyptian pilgrim Adel Abdul-Shafi said.

Saudi Arabia warned earlier this month against any attempt to politicise the pilgrimage, saying they would threatenthe safety of worshipers.  In 1987, a rally by pilgrims against Israel and the United States led to clashes with Saudi security forces in which 402 people, mostly Iranians, died.

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