Saudi Arabia, Iran Dispute Affects Hajj Pilgrims

By Ibrahim Alkhayal

There is an ongoing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran surrounding this year’s Hajj, the annual trip to Islam’s holiest city, Makkah. Saudi-Iranian relations took a dive this year after Iran refused to sign a Saudi document requiring Iranian pilgrims to follow specific rules on their arrival to Makkah, according to Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.

This conflict began in January 2016 after the Saudi government had executed 47 people for terrorism, including the Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. The Iranian government responded in a dramatic way by attacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran.  Riyadh immediately cut all diplomatic ties with Tehran, the website reported.

Al-Hajj begins on the eighth day of the Dhu al-Hijjah lunar month (the Islamic official calendar, based on the moon sighting), which is the 12th month. One to three million people from different parts of the world start their trip after the Month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the lunar month. This year the number of Hajjis (pilgrims) is expected to reach 1.8 million, according to Alarabiya English.

People performing one of Islam's rituals, circling Al-Kaaba Al-Musharrafah (The Holy Kaaba) at Al-Masjid Al-Ḥaram (The Great Mosque), Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.

People performing one of Islam’s rituals, circling Al-Kaaba Al-Musharrafah (The Holy Kaaba) at Al-Masjid Al-Ḥaram (The Great Mosque), Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.

According to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, which is responsible for regulating the religious worship visits to Madinah city and Makkah in Saudi Arabia, the government has agreed to issue electronic visas to Iranians in Iran, who want to go on the Hajj this year. The visas will come via the Swiss embassy, acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia.  Further, the Swiss embassy will look after the Iranian pilgrims when they arrive in Saudi Arabia,  Aljazeera reports.

“Iran has demanded the right to organize marches and to have privileges that would cause chaos during the Hajj, [and] this is unacceptable,” the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-jubeir said. He also added that: “Saudi Arabia does not prevent anyone from performing the religious duty,” as Reuters reported.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, adviser to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah Region and Chairman of Hajj Central Committee, also stated that the Iranian government cannot stop Iranians living abroad from performing the Hajj, as the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Saudi-Iranian relationship has too long been in conflict. Now is the time for the two governments to put aside their differences and learn to live together in harmony.  Each country should look after its own problems and not interfere in another nation’s domestic affairs.

Photograph by Ibrahim Alkhayal


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