Iran denies Karbala pilgrimage is a substitute to hajj

Iran denies Karbala pilgrimage is a substitute to hajj
The presence of thousands of Iranian Shia pilgrims in Karbala has aroused false rumours that Tehran wants to encourage citizens to visit the Iraqi city rather than Saudi Arabia's Mecca.
2 min read
14 September, 2016
Tehran maintains that at least 464 Iranians were killed on last year's Hajj
Thousands of Iranian pilgrims travelled to Karbala - a city in Iraq revered by Shia Muslims - on Monday and Tuesday after being denied access to the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia by Tehran authorities.

The presence of so many Iranians at the Iraqi Shia shrine city during the hajj pilgrimage period has led to accusations Tehran is seeking to exacerbate tensions with Riyadh.

Tehran banned Iranian citizens from travelling to Saudi Arabia in May this year following disagreements regarding a crush at last year's hajj which cost the lives of 2,000 pilgrims - including 464 Iranians. 

Saudi Arabia's execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and the ransacking of two of the kingdom's diplomatic missions in Iran led the two countries to break diplomatic ties.

Images of Iranian Shia pilgrims arriving in Karbala early this week prompted some pro-Saudi Arabia media outlets - and even the Egypt's al-Azhar University - to query whether Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei had issued a fatwa encouraging Iranians to travel to Karbala and Najaf, as a replacement to the hajj.

Summing up the mood of suspicion one Saudi Arabian academic accused Iran of trying to foment sectarianism.

"When the faithful are focusing on their spiritual journey to please God Almighty (by attending hajj), Iran is trying to start a sectarian war by sending its pilgrims to Karbala as if competing for the greatest and the holiest places," said Professor Ghazi bin al-Mutairi of Medina's Islamic University.

Both the Iranian embassy in Kuwait and the Iranian interests office in Cairo have since issued statements seeking to clarify the situation, refuting the accusations made by Mutairi and others. 

"No Fatwa, has ever been made about substitution of the pilgrimage to Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala for doing the hajj rituals in Mecca," said a statement issued by the Iranian Embassy in Kuwait. "Such a claim is a mere lie."

The diplomatic mission pointed out that - according to Shia tradition - visiting Karbala on Arafah Day (the second day of hajj) is considered a "good deed", but not a substitute for hajj.

The hajj takes place every year, and it is a duty of all able Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.