RIYADH – Following a year full of tensions, Saudi Arabia announced Friday, March 17, that Iranian pilgrims will participate in this year’s annual hajj, after agreeing on security and logistics.
“The ministry of hajj and the Iranian organization have completed all the necessary measures to ensure Iranian pilgrims perform hajj 1438 according to the procedures followed by all Muslim countries,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, referring to this year in the Islamic calendar, Agence France Press (AFP) reported.
For the first time in three decades, nearly 60,000 Iranian pilgrims did not attend last year’s hajj.
The boycott followed Iran and Saudi failure to agree on security and logistics, a year after fatal incidents in Mina, which resulted in the death of hundreds of pilgrims.
Tensions remain as Saudi Arabia repeatedly accuses Iran of fueling conflicts by supporting armed Shiite movements in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.
The hajj ministry said that the kingdom, home to Islam’s holiest sites, welcomes “all pilgrims from all the different nationalities and backgrounds”.
Iran rejects accusations of regional aggression, saying that Riyadh must stop its alleged support for Sunni “terrorists”.
The agreement to resume hajj pilgrims from Iran followed discussions which started in December between the Saudi minister in charge of pilgrimages, Mohammed Bentin, and an Iranian delegation.
In early March, Iran said there had been progress.
“Most of the questions up for discussion have been resolved and a couple of issues are remaining,” Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted Ali Ghazi Askar, the Iranian supreme leader’s representative for hajj affairs, as saying.
“If those questions are resolved, we hope pilgrims will soon be sent to Saudi Arabia.”
Despite agreement on the hajj, Riyadh maintains its criticism of Iran, as highlighted in talks on Tuesday between Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Donald Trump.
The two leaders “noted the importance of confronting Iran’s destabilizing regional activities”, the White House said.
Muslims from around the world pour to Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
A new Haj quota has been imposed on Saudis and all foreigners who lived in the kingdom, reducing their numbers by 50 per cent. The authorities banned anyone from performing Haj more than once in five years.
Every Muslim country has a hajj quota of 1,000 pilgrims per million inhabitants and the biggest contingent comes from Indonesia.