Two million Muslims expected for the “politicised” pilgrimage to Makkah

Iranian pilgrims are coming. Last year, they stayed away after diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia were broken. Qatar's Muslims will not be going. For weeks, many have complained about the "politicisation of the pilgrimage."

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two million Muslims from around the world are expected in Makkah for the annual pilgrimage (hajj).

What is new this year is the presence of Shia pilgrims from Iran, Saudi Arabia’s historical rival in the region. By contrast, Qataris will not be coming given the restrictions imposed on the Gulf Country following the diplomatic crisis that hit the region.

Iranians are back in Makkah after staying away last year because of a stampede in 2015 that left almost 2,300 pilgrims dead, the worst catastrophe in Hajj history. Some 464 of those who died came from Iran.

Right after the incident, Tehran railed against Riyadh’s organisation of the pilgrimage. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed with the execution of a Shia cleric by the Saudis.

Increasingly Hajj is being affected by politics even though it supposed to be motivated by faith and represent the universality of Islam.

"To politicise an event like this does no good," said Slimane Zeghidour, author of La vie quotidienne à La Mecque: De Mahomet à nos jours (Daily Life in Makkah from Mohammed to Today).

Claims that the hajj is being politicised have marred the region for some time.

Over the past three months, the Gulf has been embroiled in its worst political crisis ever, after Saudi Arabia and its allies ganged up against Qatar, which they accuse of backing terrorism and of being too close to Iran.

Since then, the emirate’s land, sea and air links have been affected.

Recently, Qatar’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs accused the Saudi Ministry of Haji of uncooperative behaviour, which has resulted in the suspension of pilgrimage preparations.

Hajj is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, and every Muslim is required to perform it at least once in their lifetime.