Workers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Islam’s holiest shrine, have started taking tips from pilgrims, drawing criticism from Saudis and other Muslims who say such a bad habit hurts the image of the holy land.
Hundreds of workers pack the massive mosque to serve worshippers during two annual rite seasons — the Haj (pilgrimage) and Umra (mini Haj), when millions of Muslims from Saudi Arabia and other countries converge on the holy site. The workers are mostly Saudis who are appointed by the government.
“Pilgrims during Haj and Umra are now paying large tips to workers at the Grand Mosque… this phenomenon has become widespread over the past three years as it was almost non-existent before,” said Hamad Othman, a Gulf pilgrim.
“The pilgrims themselves have created this problem as workers had not asked for tip before…now many workers are demanding tip.”
A Saudi female pilgrim, quoted by the Arabic language daily 'Sabq', described tip-giving at the Grand Mosque as a “scandal".
“Authorities must take urgent action to deal with this...they should warn workers against accepting tip,” the unnamed pilgrim said.
“These workers are becoming more rude…they are annoying pilgrims by insisting on having tips….This is a holy site which should remain clear of such bad practices…they are harming the image of the whole country.”
Another Saudi pilgrim, Mohammed Al Qahtani, agreed by urging authorities to monitor those workers to ensure they stop asking for tips. “Whether they call it a tip or a gift, this is negatively affecting the holy site… Saudi Arabia is a rich country and is home to the holiest land so these practices should be immediately halted.”
'Sabq' quoted some workers at the Grand Mosque as saying they do not ask for tips but that they accept what pilgrims give them as gifts. “We consider the money offered to us by the pilgrims as a gift in exchange for the services we offer them,” one Saudi worker said.
Asked about his earnings from such “gifts”, he said they could exceed SR10,000 ($2,700) during Ramadan. “My salary is around SR5,000 ($1,350) a month, which we believe is not enough to support our families.” He said pilgrims from other Gulf countries are the most generous. “Once, a pilgrim from a nearby Gulf country gave me a tip of SR2,000 ($540).”