Saudi Arabia scraps male 'guardianship' for female pilgrims to Makkah
Women who take part in the Hajj or the Umrah will no longer need to be accompanied by a "mahram”, a Saudi minister said. This ends a contentious situation that saw past announcements unfulfilled. Now women from anywhere in the world can come. Meanwhile, the Great Mosque in Makkah is undergoing a US$ 53 billion facelift.
Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Women who participate in the Hajj or Umrah, the major and lesser pilgrimages to Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, will no longer be legally required to be accompanied by a “mahram”, a closely-related male guardian. This is an important step among Sunnis.
Saudi authorities made the announcement this week. At a press conference at the Saudi embassy in Cairo on Monday, Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiaha said that women can make the pilgrimages without a male guardian.
This is changing one of the major rules that kept women subordinate to men, and comes at a contentious time for Muslim women, especially in predominantly Shia Iran where a struggle is underway over women’s freedom and rights following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman killed by that country’s so-called morality police.
The minister’s announcement is an attempt to put an end to past controversies, when the obligation of the "mahram" was lifted but never fully respected. Now, women from any country in the world travelling to Saudi Arabia can do so with greater freedom.
What is more, no cap will be placed on the number of Umrah visas issued to Muslims from around the world, Rabiah said. In addition, the kingdom plans to use digitisation and artificial intelligence to modernise Hajj and Umrah procedures.
This includes “using robots to provide some services to the pilgrims, as well as developing the Nusk platform, which makes available many facilities for the pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque,” the minister explained. Thus, “the visa can be obtained within 24 hours”.
At the end of his visit to the Egyptian capital, Minister Rabiah met with Egypt's Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Ahmed Issa, as well as the Saudi ambassador to Cairo and other officials.
Their discussions focused on bilateral relations and the services guaranteed by Saudi Arabia to pilgrims. To this end, Saudi Arabia plans to invest US$ 53 billion to renovate and enlarge the Great Mosque in Makkah, by far its biggest and most expensive expansion in history.
At the same time, Riyadh is working on reducing pilgrimage costs to make pilgrimages accessible to more Muslims.