Saudi Arabia does not politicize Hajj
Fahad Nazer - Fri, Aug 11th 2017 12:00 AM
Saudi Arabia does not politicize Hajj
For the estimated 2 million Muslims who will make the pilgrimage to Makkah later this month, Hajj is a time for religious devotion and spiritual renewal. Unfortunately, for a few misguided others, the Hajj season has become a time to play politics, sow division, and on occasion exploit tragic accidents. Politicization of Hajj is shameful and does not serve Muslims or Islam. It must stop.
Saudi Arabia has always welcomed Muslims performing Hajj or Umrah in Makkah or visiting Madinah. This was the case since the Grand Mosque in Makkah could only accommodate a few thousand worshippers until today, when it can be filled with close to 2 million people during Hajj or the last few days of Ramadan.
The Kingdom has never barred nationals of any country from performing Hajj, regardless of any political tensions or disputes with another country. For Saudi Arabia’s leaders, being the custodians of the Two Holy Mosques is a great blessing and privilege.
Yet that has not prevented some groups, organizations and even countries from making the unsubstantiated claim that pilgrims from certain countries have been banned or prevented from attending Hajj by Saudi authorities. Even worse, some have made the outlandish suggestion that the administration of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah should be under the tutelage of an international body of some sort.
Over the years, the worst offenders by far have been various Iranian government officials. Iran has a track record of enjoining some of its pilgrims to hold political protests in Makkah during Hajj, creating a security and safety hazard for hundreds of thousands of people. Some Iranian officials have even exploited tragic accidents and used them to grandstand. The most recent example was in 2015, when an accident led to the deaths of several hundred people.
Instead of expressing condolences and offering assistance — which is what several other countries did at the time — Iranian officials used this solemn occasion to question Saudi authorities’ preparedness, and issued calls for internationalizing the administration of Hajj. That is a non-starter for the Saudi government, and a personal affront to every Saudi.
This politicization of Hajj is one of the many factors that led to the severing of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran in early 2016. Iran’s long history of not abiding by international norms of “good neighborliness” is the main reason it remains a pariah.
Unfortunately, some Qatari officials seem to have resorted to similar tactics by claiming that Saudi Arabia is preventing Qataris from performing Hajj. Not only have Saudi officials welcomed Qatari pilgrims, they have also documented the arrival of hundreds of them who have performed the lesser rite of Hajj since the crisis began.
The stellar accommodations provided to pilgrims from all over the world have received praise from regular people visiting Saudi Arabia, as well as government officials from several countries. Many have expressed appreciation to Saudi Hajj officials for the warm welcome they have received upon arriving in the Kingdom. This includes officials from Lebanon, Iraq and even Iran.
It is estimated that more than 80,000 Iranian pilgrims will perform Hajj this year. The Saudi media has captured the moment many of them arrived in the Kingdom. Videos show some being showered with flowers by young men and children as they walk through arrival terminals at airports.
An official with the Iranian Hajj delegation is seen in another video praising officials at the airport for their “warm welcome.” Another shows the head of the Iraqi delegation exchanging pleasantries with Madinah’s deputy governor, who proudly proclaims: “We are servants in this land.”
One hopes that government officials from Qatar, Syria and Iran realize that this sacred rite and these sacred sites are not the time or place for political grandstanding. It is also patently unjust to create artificial barriers and deny their own citizens the chance to perform this religious duty.
• Fahad Nazer is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among others.
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