Is Saudi Arabia Using Hajj Pilgrimage To Impose Its Policies On Other Gulf Nations And Muslim Countries?

Millions of Muslims come to Mecca every year to perform the pilgrimage known as the Hajj, bringing billions of dollars to the Saudi economy.

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation on every Muslim who can afford to do it and a journey with rites that must be performed at a certain time, in a certain way.

Restaurants, travel agents, airlines and mobile phone companies in Saudi Arabia, all earn big bucks during the Hajj and the government benefits in the form of taxes.

Economic experts believe Hajj and Umrah profits will exceed $150 billion by 2022, in light of the expected mergers of economic blocs and groupings to meet the growing demand on Hajj and Umrah economics in terms of transport, commercial stores and expansion in small, medium enterprises.

On the other hand, some world leaders lambasted the House of Saud for using the pilgrimage to Mecca, to impose its policies on other Gulf nations and Muslim countries, arguing that Saudis violates the conditions of its role as custodian of the holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.

“Only God has the right to forbid anyone to go on Hajj, not Saudi Arabia,” Mujtahid Hasheem, secretary-general of GSMP said.

Saudi Arabia refused to issue Hajj visas for Qatari citizens and residents in 2017. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry criticised “illogical” Saudi Arabia’s decision to only fly Qatari pilgrims to the kingdom on Saudi aircraft, and cautioned against exploiting the hajj “as a tool for political manipulation.”

Read More: Saudi Arabia Uses Hajj Money To Pay For The War In Yemen; Religious Scholars

In 2016, Iran ordered its citizens to boycott Mecca and Medina after the 2015 Hajj stampede which killed approximately 2,000 people.

The crush left 769 dead, according to Saudi authorities, who maintain the pilgrims ignored crowd control regulations. But this death toll is at odds with most sources which put the figure more than 2,400, most of whom Iranians.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated his statement that Iranians had been “murdered” by the Saudi regime during 2015 hajj, blaming their incompetence. The Iranian government urged Muslims to unite against Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis “have made the divine sanctuary unsafe for everybody”, the leader said in a statement posted on his website. “The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers – instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst. They murdered them.”

“Those who have reduced Hajj to a religious tourist trip and have hidden their enmity and malevolence towards the faithful and revolutionary people of Iran under the name of ‘politicising hajj’, are themselves small and puny satans who tremble for fear of jeopardising the interests of the great satan, the US.” he added.

Indonesia also criticised Saudis for the slow response to the hajj pilgrimage disaster in Mina, saying its diplomats only received full access to the dead and injured days after the crush.

After pressure from other Muslim countries, King Salman of Saudi Arabia admitted there was a need to improve the level of organisation and management of the movement of pilgrims.

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