Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Ironically, before 1979, the Iranian pilgrims coming to Saudi Arabia for Haj or Umrah were law abiding visitors and respected by Saudis. Sadly, all that has changed now. Tehran is busy politicizing the Haj, which is a sacred religious duty and which has nothing to do with politics.

Haj is the largest annual gathering of people in the world and organizing it requires gigantic efforts. The preparations take place many months before the pilgrimage. Haj is mandatory on Muslims and should be performed once in a life time, provided the person performing it is an adult Muslim and he/she is physically, financially and mentally capable to undertake the journey.

Muslims from the Kingdom and from across the world have been performing Haj since the dawn of Islam. The pilgrimage was difficult due to travel hardships and lack of facilities. However, since the establishment of modern Saudi Arabia, Haj facilities have been taken to new levels with regard to infrastructure and security. Every year, the Kingdom takes all necessary measures and presses ambulances, fire-fighting equipment, helicopters and tens of thousands of personnel into service for the safety, security and comfort of pilgrims.

During Haj, millions of pilgrims move from one place to another at specific times and on specific days. Millions gather in places like the Grand Mosque, Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat. But the actual preparations start right from the day pilgrims start applying for permits. Saudi Arabia goes the extra mile every year to ensure a smooth Haj pilgrimage. The government allocates billions of riyals for new projects. In the past few years, Haj saw fire proof tents being erected. This year, the Saudi authorities are using electronic bracelets, to be worn around the wrist, to keep a track of every Haji, if he/she is lost.

Haj is the time that shows that all men and women are equal, regardless of caste, color or race. The pilgrims have no time for other activities except worshipping Allah. In other words, Haj is no place for politics or actions to divide Muslims or disrupt the peace. Unfortunately, Iran has been relentlessly trying to undermine the Kingdom’s efforts and trying to politicize the pilgrimage.

More than 25 years ago, Tehran had planned to smuggle high explosive into the Kingdom through some Iranian revolutionary guards posing as pilgrims. In addition to this, thousands of Iranians tried to stage demonstrations, leading to riots.

This year, Iran’s malicious intentions came to light when it started criticizing the Kingdom and making unjust demands. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly declared that it will not tolerate politics during Haj, but still announced that Iranian pilgrims are welcome as long as they come to perform a religious obligation and not indulge in politics. Still, Iran banned its pilgrims from performing Haj this year. Tehran’s actions are being questioned by many Iranians themselves.

Since the revolution 35 years ago, Iran has become the most annoying country in the region, as well as in the world. It has become the most radical nation and biggest violator of international laws. Many foreign embassies and consulates in Iran were attacked and foreign diplomats’ rights were violated under the watchful eyes of government officials and police.

It is very much clear that Iran is more interested in spreading chaos in the Middle East, rather than focussing on its own social and economic problems. Iranian mullahs are only trying to divert the attention of the citizens from the prevailing instability in the country and security problems by creating problems in the region and playing politics in religious issues such as Haj. Tehran is advised to focus on infrastructure development, social welfare schemes and dwindling economy, all of which is in the best interest of its citizens. By continuing to create problems in the region through proxy wars and politicize religion, Tehran is only digging its own grave.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. No Politics Please, Haj A Religious Duty reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.