Representing the issue of what took place in Mecca in July as being a difference in opinion between the Iranian and Saudi governments as to whether religion and politics should be separated gives a false impression of the meaning and purpose behind the ritual of pilgrimage. It also undermines the anguish felt by Muslims who find their most sacred spot defiled by actions with no real Islamic basis.

It is not my wish to comment on the one-sidedness of Mushahid Hussain's pro-Iranian "Eyewitness in Mecca" {op-ed, Aug. 20} or on The Post's choice to publish it from among the numerous articles written about that issue in the newspapers of various Muslim countries. What concerns me is the depiction of the whole issue as being no more than a disagreement about "fundamentally divergent philosophic views of Islam," which is clearly an effort to legitimize Iranian actions at Mecca.

This is made even more obvious by Hussain's allegations that a deal had been struck between the Saudis and the Iranians and that the former decided to break that deal for their own devious reasons, or perhaps because of American influence. Thus blame was to fall on the Saudis. By wrongly portraying the true meaning of the pilgrimage, Hussain tried to prove such an allegation.

Muslims are required to go on pilgrimage once in their lifetimes if they are physically and materially able to do so. They do so in fulfillment of their faith and religion, and certainly not for the purpose of political agitation. There was never a question regarding the matter before the revolution in Iran began to preach its own form of Islam and expected the Islamic world to follow, if not by conviction then by various forms of pressure.

Scripturally, pilgrimage has nothing to do with politics, whether you believe that you cannot "divorce Islam and its rituals from politics and political action" or not. Besides, there has to be a limit to particular interpretations or wishes versus what the Koran says and what the majority wishes. The Koran tells us in "Surat Al-Baqara": "For hajj {pilgrimage} are the months well known. If anyone undertakes that Duty therein, let there be no obscurity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the hajj. And whatever good ye do, {be sure} God knoweth it. And take a provision for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct. So fear Me, O ye that are wise."

Thus it is not that pilgrims from other countries are passive old men and women, as Hussain paints them in comparison with active vital Iranians. They did not join the Iranians because there is no place for political rallies in such a holy ritual. Rather, pilgrimage was meant as an act of worship, as the culmination of a Muslim's religion, a time of renewal of faith, of hopes to have sins forgiven. Spiritually, it is a time for experiencing love and closeness to God.

The pilgrimage was to have other benefits, including trade and exchange of news. Trade was an activity that benefited the Islamic community, and through it, a pilgrim could pay for the expenses of his pilgrimage.

As for assembly and discussion, the Koran invites Muslims to spend a few days after the pilgrimage during which they could meet and exchange views. As for the type of organized demonstration that could jeopardize the lives of Muslims, the Koran spoke against that very type of action because of concern for the multitudes who are present during pilgrimage and of the possibility of disorder, particularly at the end of the hajj. People are asked to move on fast and not to loiter, "then pass on at a quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the multitude so to do and ask for God's forgiveness. For God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

Thus it is not a question of diverging opinion regarding Islamic rituals. The conflict involved a previously organized demonstration, representing the point of view of one Muslim group that has declared itself the enemy of other Muslim nations and has declared those who do not follow its own religious doctrine to be infidels. Why should the other pilgrims be subjected to a single group's political ideas, not to mention their arrogance?

What was astonishing to me was the fact that the Saudi Arabian government, hoping to accommodate the Iranians, even allowed such actions in past years. No one has the right to deny the 2 million Muslims who have had the chance to go on pilgrimage (at a time when millions of others are denied because of limited space and the fear of overcrowding) from having a truly spiritual experience, to complete the requirements of their faith. Because a small number of Muslims have taken it into their minds to force the rest of the umma {Islamic community} to agree, willingly or unwillingly, to join in a political crusade, it does not mean that their ideology should be accepted or condoned by the government of Saudi Arabia.

If Hussain would have us believe him, this well-organized demonstration, with its banners, slogans and marching formations already set up, was intended as a totally peaceful demonstration. It was not meant to induce or to create an uncontrollable situation similar to the recurring pictures we have received from Iran, in which the multitudes are running around shouting slogans, causing havoc and turning into a human stampede. The loudspeakers, the "cheerleaders," etc., were not meant to cause any excitement or bring about a protest in favor of the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. But if not, then what was the purpose of the demonstration and why did the Iranians bring along their minister of propaganda?

Clearly the most significant thing about this whole affair is the fact that other Muslims did not join the Iranians; they stood quite alone. If 500 non-Iranians (out of 2 million) including Iranian-controlled Lebanese from the Hezbollah were all who did join, then it must have been a great disappointment to the Iranians and their leaders to see that they had failed, that notwithstanding all the propaganda and activism by which Iran has made the life of Muslim countries unbearable, filled with constant fears of terrorist activities, that they were still alien, their call for a united Islamic world dominated by the Iranian clergy and their own form of Islam was simply not selling. Perhaps it is this disappointment that led them to the violence, which is nothing new to the government of the ayatollahs.

Finally, the people of Iran have been known for their faith and piety. It is hard to conceive that they are not aware of the true spiritual importance of pilgrimage to Islam. It would be interesting to find out how many Iranians on pilgrimage this year actually believed in the propriety of a political demonstration and how many had no choice but to follow the dictates of the Revolutionary Guard. Unfortunately, we may only find out after the situation is changed in Iran.

The writer is an adjunct professor of history at Georgetown University.