Keep politics out of Haj, OIC tells Iran

Dubai: Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, should be kept away from politics and political differences among countries, a spokesperson of the biggest grouping of Muslim countries said.Maha Akeel, the head of the media department at the 56-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) based in Jeddah, told Gulf News that the organisation “highly values Saudi efforts in serving the pilgrims and offering them all the services they need”.

“Haj is a sacred religious duty to all Islamic peoples, and any talk about putting the ritual under a separate Islamic administration is illogical and was never put on the table of discussion,” Akeel said in a written statement.The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticised on Monday the way the Saudi authorities handled Haj after last year’s stampede that left hundreds dead. Khamenei also suggested ending Saudi Arabia’s management of the annual pilgrimage.

Khamenei said, in a message carried by his website and Iran’s state media, that the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of Haj.Egypt-based Al Azhar, the most prestigious school of Islamic learning, has already rejected any attempt to take away the Haj management from the Saudi authorities. Al Azhar described the call as an “ugly try”.

The Iranian leader’s statements on both last year’s accident and on the running of Haj are “very unfortunate and very provocative, especially that they come at a time Haj is a few days away, and all Muslims despite their different opinions and political stands should try to get together,” said Saudi media and political analyst Khaled Al Maeena.

“Nobody will give up a sovereign right to ask for an administration from outside to run Haj … this is too much,” Maeena told Gulf News.Iran is boycotting this year’s Haj over differences with Saudi Arabia over the rights of its pilgrims to engage in political activity.

Iran had boycotted Haj for three years in late eighties after the death of 400 pilgrims. Saudi Arabia’s primary objection is to Iranian pilgrims’ chanting of political slogans and engaging in gatherings and events of a political nature.Iranian stubbornness has pushed the Saudis against the wall, the analyst said.

“This is the first time the Iranian campaign against Saudi Arabia reached such level,” said Mahjoub Al Zweiri, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Qatar University. “There is a competition among Iranian officials who criticise Saudi with stronger words”.

“I believe the supreme leader’s statements reflect two things: the [high] level of enmity between the two countries, and how Saudi Arabia believes it is the right time to put an end to the problems with Iran,” Zweiri told.From a Saudi perspective, “Iran should realise that it is like other countries [and no better]”, he said.

Iran should reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia the same way it did with the western powers on its nuclear programme, analysts said in reference to last year’s nuclear deal.


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