European rights body questions curbs on Qatari Haj pilgrims

 12 Aug 2017 - 1:48

European rights body questions curbs on Qatari Haj pilgrims
The vast tented city in Mina built for pilgrims during Eid al-Adha (AFP)

By Mohammed Osman / The Peninsula

International human rights organisations are expressing their concerns over the restrictions imposed on Qatar’s nationals and expatriates willing to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med Monitor) yesterday urged the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) to raise the issue of restrictions being faced by Qatari pilgrims intend to perform Haj in Saudi Arabia.

Euro-Med Monitor in its letter said that it would like to draw IARF attention to the recent measures taken by Saudi Arabia against Qatari pilgrims wishing to perform Haj, Islam’s fifth pillar.

The organisation notes that due to current “political crisis in the Gulf and the blockade imposed on Qatar by its three Gulf neighbours and Egypt, Qatari pilgrims are facing restrictions which might affect their ability to perform this religious duty”.

Moreover, Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights appealed IARF “to make sure that Saudi Arabia is not using Islam to achieve political gains, at the expense of the religious freedom of the people of Qatar”.

The Haj days are nearing which is going to take place by the end of this month while many Qatari nationals and expatriates will not be able perform the rituals.

The Saudi authority  has not officially banned Qataris from performing the Haj but prevented companies from making the necessary arrangements for Qatari pilgrims by not allowing companies to secure accommodation and transportation within Saudi Arabia.

Other restrictions related to the air, land and sea blockade have prevented local companies from taking care of the necessary needs of Qatari Pilgrims in the holy lands during the Haj period making it a major logistic obstacle to perform the rites.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, Saudi authorities have allowed Qatari pilgrims to only enter Saudi through two airports, and further, they must travel via Doha. “This will prove to be extremely challenging for those who do not live in Doha, like those who work or study abroad.”  Further, Saudi Arabia identified individuals that they will deny access regardless of the manner in which they travel, the human rights watchdog says.

In response to such concerns raised by Qatar and other international organisations, Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, accused Qatar recently “of politicising the issue and demanding the “internationalisation of the Haj”. His claim was strongly rejected by Qatari officials including Qatari Foreign Minister, H E Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in an interview with Al Jazeera that “Qatar never politicised the issue of Haj.”

He added that “it was Saudi Arabia which is trying to politicise the Haj pilgrimage amid the Gulf crisis” and there is no suggestion made by any Qatari official to internationalising the Haj issue. Normally most of the pilgrims heading to Makkah to perform Haj sign a contract with Haj operators (companies) in their country; which in turn arrange with Saudi companies to takes care of accommodation, food and transport during Haj.

It has been reported that many Haj operating companies in Qatar became victims of the restriction measures of Saudi.

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