On a friend’s farm in the desert between Cairo and Alexandria. The comforting isolation and relaxing quiet are unmatched; your unoccupied senses allow you to open up, to think with clarity. The stars are clearly visible right after sunset and you are just another dot on a much bigger dot, there is no room for worry in the desert, you explore it and it explores you. At night, surrounded by complete darkness, it feels like a womb to rethink your life so far, and maybe reach a new beginning. If you look up, the moon pierces the sky, your white wine.

I am not religious by any means, but I can understand how Hajj treks in the past were fulfilling and existentially purifying, as Hajj is supposed to be. Months spent in the desert gave pilgrims a chance to reflect on their lives and make a conscious decision on how to spend the rest of their days. Regardless of opinions on faith and religious beliefs, Hajj used to be a mystic and life-changing journey to a desired certainty, whatever it is.

Fast-forward to the age of vehicles and the journey is completed on an air-conditioned plane and each pilgrim must pay the Saudis at least 3,000 U.S. dollars.

In 2014, Saudi Arabia made $8.5 billion from Hajj.

It is a safe, stable, and lucrative business. The oil giant uses this money to spread Wahhabism, which renders Sunni Muslims in neighboring countries, and elsewhere, loyal allies to the Saudi royals and contributes to the dominance of intolerant and ancient interpretations of Islam over other possible understandings of the Abrahamic creed. Wahhabism also guarantees Muslims will visit Mecca for Hajj more than once in their lives despite the fact that Muslims are ordered to perform Hajj only once in a lifetime.

The spiritual journey was transformed into a business that funds extremism, bolsters the influence of Saudis in the region, and provides for the welfare of Saudi men – cannot envy Saudi women. And while Saudi men revel in oil and Hajj money, thousands of Arab youths either die in wars -some of which instigated, in part, by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism-, suffer horrible education, or rot in poverty — bad infrastructure and abhorrent basic services.

Arabs will never stop to think what if the money they spend on Hajj is spent on bettering conditions in the region because oil sheiks are everywhere blinding Muslims to life, selling them a version of Islam where if you go to Mecca every year you don’t need to pay any attention to the epidemics slowly decaying your state.

Socialism aside, speaking solely and purely out of self-interest, are Arab Muslim countries sustainable as they are? Can billions every year make a difference?

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