Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION,   January 20, 2009

Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape

To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.

The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.

Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.

--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
---  Native American proverb
July 31, 2020

Mr. President:  The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam, required of those who
are able and have the financial capacity.  Eid al Adha celebrations follow Hajj and this
year Eid fell on July 31.  It is the second of the two major holidays for Muslims and is
often called the festival of sacrifice.

Families purchase an animal usually a goat or sheep for the ritual.  The meat is
shared with family and friends but mostly distributed to the poor.  There is a strong
undercurrent of social welfare in Islam placing a burden on the haves to look after the
needs of the have-nots.

This year the coronavirus has caused havoc with the Hajj economy.  It's roots go
deep.  Mecca was always a city of pilgrimage possessing as it did the idols of
pre-Islamic gods.  Traders and merchants were wary of Islam which was notably
severe on idolatry.  Needless to say, the Hajj soon placated their fears.

Now for the first time in its history, the coronavirus has done what wars could not:  it
has restricted Hajj.  Saudi Arabia has closed its borders to Hajj pilgrims.  Even
residents have had to fill application forms from which about 10,000 have been
selected.  Compare the figure to the two million usual Hajj pilgrims and one gets an
extent of the loss for organizers, accommodation and transportation providers (for the
Hajj is a peripatetic ritual), etc.   The loss to Mecca and Medina is estimated at around
$10 billion.  A sizable hit and when added with other ravages of the coronavirus yields
a rough estimate of a 4 percent contraction in the Saudi economy.

Among the worst hit are the travel firms in the pilgrims' own countries.  Many of these
companies specialize in Hajj travel earning in a couple of months enough to sustain
them and their workers for the year.  For them, the future looks bleak.  It's tough also
for the sheep and cattle farmers in surrounding countries as far away as Kenya.  
They raise livestock to export for sacrifice at Eid al Adha but absent demand prices
have crashed.

If Eid prayers were a jam-packed, shoulder to shoulder event, no longer in the age of
social distancing.  And somehow the ritual of stoning the devil (the three pillars at
Mina) seems to lose its impact under a greatly diminished quantity of stones from
thinned out throwers.

Well, such has been this year's pilgrimage.  A socially distanced Hajj that included in
addition to the stoning a socially distanced circuiting of the Kaaba in the Grand
mosque -- absent of course the energy and emotion crowds spontaneously generate.

Hajj and its Eid are over, sanitized and played safe by Saudi Arabia.  And cold,
scientific rationality ruled.  Is there a lesson there somewhere?