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Iran Launches Early Pilgrimage Politicization Battle, Saudi Arabia Refutes Allegations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Pilgrims performing their rituals. Reuters

Riyadh, Cairo-Every year, as the Hajj season approaches, Saudi Arabia, represented by the Ministry of Hajj, starts preparing for their guests by organizing meetings with representatives of Muslim countries and Muslim minorities around the world.

These meetings aim at discussing requirements and arrangements for the delegations, considering it a Saudi duty for more than 80 years now.

Despite Iran’s attempts to politicize Hajj in various ways, this year it has chosen to launch allegations regarding the rituals so early.

In response to these allegations, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said, in a statement on Thursday, the Iranian Hajj delegation had earlier refused to sign a standard agreement with Saudi Arabia that is mandatory for all nations sending pilgrims, and the delegation had left the country.

The ministry said the Iranians had demanded several concessions including Iran and Saudi carriers must share equally in transporting pilgrims, and to have Saudi Hajj visas issued in Iran.

It also said 78 countries are required to send Hajj delegations to finalize arrangements for their pilgrims, and the president of the Iranian Hajj delegation, Said Owhadi, was invited to have these discussions too.

The kingdom, “welcomes all pilgrims from all over the world and from all nationalities and sectarian backgrounds, and does not stop any Muslim from coming,” the ministry of Hajj said in its statement.

An Iranian delegation held four days of talks with Saudi Arabia in April this year to discuss hajj arrangements, the first face-to-face negotiation between the two countries in months since diplomatic relations were severed after the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Iran and its Consulate in Mashhad, but with Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran still closed and Iranian flights to the kingdom halted, the talks hit a deadlock.

However, Iran’s minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Ali Jannati, said Thursday that the talks had gone poorly, asserting that there would be no hajj participation by Iran this year as he blamed the Saudis.

“Their attitude was cold and inappropriate,” Jannati said in remarks quoted by the Iranian state-sponsored website Press TV. “They did not accept our proposals concerning the issuing of visas, the transport and security of the pilgrims.”

He said: “Conditions are not ripe for conducting hajj. We have lost time. We made our utmost effort but the sabotage is coming from the Saudis.”

“Saudi officials say our pilgrims must travel to another country to submit their visa applications.”

Iran wants Saudi Arabia to issue visas through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which has looked after Saudi interests since Riyadh broke off ties in January. The Saudi Hajj ministry, however, said it informed the Iranians that they could get their visas through the online system used for all pilgrims coming from abroad.

Meanwhile, Ulamas in Al-Azhar refused allegations announced by Iran on Thursday claiming that Saudi Arabia is halting Iranians from performing their Pilgrimage rituals this year.

Al-Azhar scholars and intellectuals said: “Saudi Arabia has never, throughout history, prevented any Muslim from performing the fifth Islamic pillar, and it has recorded a bright history in serving the two Holy Mosques and the pilgrims, who travel all the way to Saudi Arabia for this goal.”

They also told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that “Iran has political irresponsibility and is trying to integrate its political goals in religious disputes,” adding what Iran is trying to do by what it has announced in the name of Saudi Arabia is an attempt to ignite sectarian strife.