Newspaper article International New York Times

Iran Bars Its Citizens from Traveling to Mecca for the Muslim Pilgrimage

Newspaper article International New York Times

Iran Bars Its Citizens from Traveling to Mecca for the Muslim Pilgrimage

Article excerpt

The decision followed accusations that Saudi Arabia, which hosts the main pilgrimage site of Islam, had started a cyberwar against Iran.

In a sign of further tension between regional rivals, Iran will not allow its citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in September, Iran's state television has reported.

The decision, which means that tens of thousands of Iranians cannot make their spiritual journey to the main pilgrimage site of Islam, came after several failed rounds of talks between officials of both countries and on the heels of accusations that Saudi Arabia has started a cyberwar against Iran.

Iran's culture minister, Ali Jannati, told state television on Sunday that "no pilgrims would be sent to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, because of obstacles created by Saudi officials."

In a statement, Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage organization condemned Saudi Arabia for what it said was a lack of cooperation. "Too much time has been lost, and it is now too late to organize the pilgrimage," the organization said, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah accused a visiting Iranian delegation of refusing to sign an agreement resolving issues. "They will be responsible in front of Allah Almighty and its people for the inability of the Iranian citizens to perform hajj for this year," the ministry said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The annual hajj pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam. According to religious tenets, every Muslim is duty-bound to visit Mecca. The absence of Iranian Shiites during the pilgrimage will further widen the rift with Sunnis; some extremist Sunni adherents accuse Shiites of not being true Muslims.

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have remained strained since the start of the conflict in Syria more than five years ago. Iran supports President Bashar al-Assad's government in Damascus, while Saudi Arabia supports rebel militias.

Throughout the last year, there have been tensions over Iranian visits to Mecca. During the 2015 hajj, many pilgrims died in a stampede, with Saudi Arabia claiming around 700 deaths and Iran saying more than 4,500 people had been killed. …

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