On the occasion of the beginning of the Hajj, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made a call "to properly reconsider the issue of Saudi Arabia's organizational control of the Hajj and the major shrines of Islam in Mecca and Medina."
How does Iran see the reorganization of the Hajj? Is it possible to use the rich Iranian experience of pilgrims' reception in the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad and implement it in Mecca and Medina? Seyed Hadi Afghahi, an Iranian political analyst and Middle East expert, who has a bad personal Hajj experience, tried to answer this question in an interview to Sputnik.
"Firstly, the status of the Imam Reza shrine in the Iranian province of Khorasan is different from the one of shrines in Mecca and Medina. The Hajj is one of the mandatory rites. Those, who go to Mecca to perform the Hajj, are kind of doing their religious and political duty. In contrast, a pilgrimage to the temple of Imam Reza is nonbinding," the expert explained.
"Secondly, Mashhad, where the temple complex is situated, has never seen such tragedies like the one in the valley of Mina, which was the result of crowding, or the other one, when a huge construction crane crashed through the roof of the mosque in Mecca and buried everyone in the courtyard," he continued. Over 120 people were killed and more than 230 injured in Mecca. The Mina stampede carried away the lives of more than 700 pilgrims, 400 of them were Iranian citizens.
Seyed Hadi Afghahi also noted that when organizing the pilgrimage, Iranian authorities accept any proposals to improve the quality of service and security of pilgrims. Muslims from foreign countries visit the Imam Reza shrine throughout the year. As for the Hajj, the ritual cannot be performed whenever it is convenient, according to the Shariah.
"As regards reviewing organization of the Hajj, it is not some kind of a whim. The government of Saudi Arabia, having billions of dollars earned on the sale of oil, do not even think about the expansion of the winding and narrow paths for pilgrims. Iran's proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was to jointly create a layout improvement project of the holy places, to create and to ensure safety and to avoid such casualties," the analyst said.
Even before the 1979 Islamic revolution, in the days of the Shah, when Iranian relations with the KSA were better than they are now, pilgrimages were not without casualties. Therefore, Iran demands that the Hajj to Mecca and Medina is organized not by the Saudi authorities but, for example, by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Seyed Hadi Afghahi added.
"Unfortunately, the KSA authorities turned the Hajj into a kind of politically motivated trip, devoid of spirituality and holiness. They do not allow the pilgrims to freely and comfortably perform their religious ceremony, according to the precepts of the Quran," the expert told Sputnik.
"Instead, the Saudi authorities with all their radicalism unjustly detain and arrest pilgrims who do not share their ideology of Wahhabism. I was personally arrested twice for no reason during the pilgrimage and held in custody. This is nothing but a religious dictatorship," he added.
The ruling Al-Saud regime only destroys the sanctity of the pilgrimage and destabilizes the situation in Muslim countries, believes Seyed Hadi Afghahi.
"This year, Iran has made numerous attempts to reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia on the Hajj for its citizens. But the other party did not show compliancy; on the contrary, the KSA authorities were looking for political motivation in every nuance. In the end, a constructive dialogue did not happen. The Iranian side has not only failed to receive an apology for last year's tragedy, but also lost the chance to participate in the Hajj season."
According to Seyed Hadi Afghahi, there is hope that the message of Ayatollah Khamenei will become an alarm for all Muslim countries and their leaders, especially taking into account that the Egyptians, the Iraqis, the Yemenis, the Palestinians and the Syrians were deprived of the possibility to perform their religious rites, too.
"No one has the right to deprive the rights of the pilgrims. The shrines of Islam are not the private property, they are spiritual and sacred heritage of the entire Muslim world," the expert concluded.