Saturday December 14, 2019

While Iran boycotts this year’s Hajj, Security gets Tighter as Hajj Begins in Saudi Arabia

Thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran on Friday to protest Saudi Arabia ahead of the Hajj

2
//
Pilgrim in supplication at Masjid al-Haram. Wikimedia Commons
  • Nearly two million people from around 150 countries are expected to take part in the five-day pilgrimage this year
  • It is the world’s biggest annual gathering of people and all Muslims are expected to do Hajj at least once in their lifetime
  • The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam

Sept 11, 2016: Iran is boycotting this year’s Hajj, citing Saudi “incompetence” and a poor response by health and safety officials. Masses of Iranian Shi’ites have instead converged on the holy Iraqi city of Karbala for an alternative pilgrimage.

Tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims are absent from this year’s Hajj as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran flare over last year’s stampede, – the largest number of deaths reported by any country. During last year’s pilgrimage, several hundred Iranians were among at least 2,000 people crushed to death in a stampede in Mecca.

This year’s pilgrimage has introduced new security measures to prevent a recurrence of Hajj 2015’s deadly stampede, which, according to the Saudi Arabian officials, killed at least 760 pilgrims, however the actual death toll could be as high as 2,180.

This time Iran has boycotted the Hajj, but it comes at a time when tensions with rival Saudi Arabia are at a record high over conflicts in Syria and Yemen, where Tehran and Riyadh support opposite sides.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran last January after demonstrators set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran following Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Muslim pilgrims sit inside their accommodation after their arrival at Arafat during the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 10, 2016. VOA
Muslim pilgrims sit inside their accommodation after their arrival at Arafat during the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 10, 2016. VOA

In recent weeks, rhetoric between the two capitals has escalated. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has challenged Saudi Arabia’s right to manage Islam’s holy sites, accusing the Saudi royal family of “murder” in last year’s stampede. A prominent Saudi cleric responded by saying Iran’s leaders are “not Muslim.”

SAFETY CONCERNS-

Access to the Kaaba has been suspended during prayers and officers in red berets and camouflage uniforms have surrounded crowd-controlling barricades, as part of several safety measures implemented this year after the stampede.

The Kingdom has also  issued pilgrims with identification bracelets, which carry a bar code readable by smartphones and that hold data such as the pilgrim’s identity, nationality and where they are staying in Mecca.Saudi Arabia has doubled down on safety and security in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year’s disaster. The publication Arab News reported that authorities had conducted 1,000 health and safety training courses in recent weeks and deployed 26,000 medical, technical and other official personnel to pilgrimage areas in Mecca, Medina, Arafat and Mina, along with a fleet of more than 175 ambulances.

Thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran on Friday to protest Saudi Arabia ahead of the Hajj.

Security officials have placed 1,000 cameras at strategic locations to allow constant monitoring of events.

All pilgrims are being outfitted with water-resistant e-bracelets equipped with bar codes that link to personal information, including medical records, in an effort to facilitate treatment in case of illness or injury.

Health, however, is only one concern. In early July, three suicide bombers struck separate targets across Saudi Arabia, including the site in Medina where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to be buried. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which Saudi Arabia believes was inspired by the Islamic State group. The bombings have raised questions about the kingdom’s ability to protect Saudi citizens and visitors during the Hajj.

Authorities have limited the number of visas for each country in an effort to control crowds. All “guests of Allah” are required to carry permits, and police have set up security checkpoints to prevent unauthorized pilgrims from entering the holy sites. It has also vowed strict punishment for all offenders.

‘Journey for God’

Hajj refers to a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca and is one of the five pillars of Islam. At least once in his or her lifetime, each Muslim is expected to undertake this pilgrimage the sacred city of Islam. This holy journey is called the hajj in Arabic. While a visit to Mecca is beneficial any time of the year, it must take place during the month of Dhu al-Hijja (the last month of the Islamic year) to fulfill the requirements of the hajj.

As with the sawm (fasting), exceptions are made for those who are physically or financially unable to fulfill this obligation, and one is actually commanded not to make the hajj if to do so would cause hardship for his or her family.

The hajj is commanded in the Quran – “And pilgrimage to the House is a duty unto God for mankind, for him who can find the way thither” (3:97) – and its rites were established by Muhammad, but Muslim tradition dates it back to Adam and Abraham, who were instructed by angels in the performance of the rites. The hajj was one of the last public acts of worship performed by Muhammad before his death.

About 2 million Muslims complete the hajj each year. The government of Saudi Arabia has contributed significant resources to maintain the holy places and manage the crowd of pilgrims. Despite the large numbers seen in Mecca each year, only a small percentage of Muslims have fulfilled the duty. Those who have done so may add the title hajj or hajji to their names. (VOA)

  • Manthra koliyer

    Haj is surely a great event!

  • Arya Sharan

    Sad to see such holy places threatened by the face of terrorism.

Next Story

No More Segregation on the Basis of Gender in Restaurants in Saudi Arabia

Saudi restaurants no longer need to segregate women and men

0
Saudi Arabia
Restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including major Western chains like Starbucks, are currently segregated by “family” sections allocated for women. Lifetime Stock

Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer need to use separate entrances from men or sit behind partitions at restaurants in the latest measure announced by the government that upends a major hallmark of conservative restrictions that had been in place for decades.

The decision, which essentially erodes one of the most visible gender segregation restrictions in place, was quietly announced Sunday in a lengthy and technically worded statement by the Municipal and Rural Affairs Ministry.

While some restaurants and cafes in the coastal city of Jiddah and Riyadh’s upscale hotels had already been allowing unrelated men and women to sit freely, the move codifies what has been a sensitive issue in the past among traditional Saudis who view gender segregation as a religious requirement. Despite that, neighboring Muslim countries do not have similar rules.

Restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including major Western chains like Starbucks, are currently segregated by “family” sections allocated for women who are out on their own or who are accompanied by male relatives, and “singles” sections for just men. Many also have separate entrances for women and partitions or rooms for families where women are not visible to single men. In smaller restaurants or cafes with no space for segregation, women are not allowed in.

Reflecting the sensitive nature of this most recent move, the decision to end requirements of segregation in restaurants was announced in a statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The statement listed a number of newly-approved technical requirements for buildings, schools, stores and sports centers, among others.

Saudi Sex Segregation
A woman leaves a ladies only service area at a restaurant in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. VOA

The statement noted that the long list of published decisions was aimed at attracting investments and creating greater business opportunities.

Among the regulations announced was “removing a requirement by restaurants to have an entrance for single men and (another) for families.”

Couched between a new regulation about the length of a building’s facade and allowing kitchens on upper floors to operate was another critical announcement stating that restaurants no longer need to “specify private spaces”— an apparent reference to partitions.

Across Saudi Arabia, the norm has been that unrelated men and women are not permitted to mix in public. Government-run schools and most public universities remain segregated, as are most Saudi weddings.

In recent years, however, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for sweeping social reforms, with women and men now able to attend concerts and movie theaters that were once banned. He also curtailed the powers of the country’s religious police, who had been enforcers of conservative social norms, like gender segregation in public.

Two years ago, women for the first time were allowed to attend sports events in stadiums in the so-called “family” sections. Young girls in recent years have also been allowed access to physical education and sports in school, a right that only boys had been afforded.

Also Read- We Should Give the Rape Accused Life Imprisonment: Waheeda Rehman

In August, the kingdom lifted a controversial ban on travel by allowing all citizens — women and men alike — to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a long-standing guardianship policy that had controlled women’s freedom of movement.

The new rules remove restrictions that had been in place, but do not state that restaurants or cafes have to end segregated entrances or seated areas. Many families in conservative swaths of the country, where women cover their hair and face in public, may prefer eating only at restaurants with segregated spaces. (VOA)