Millions arrive in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj

Millions arrive in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj
Almost two million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj, with Iran boycotting the event for the first time and Syria sending an unofficial delegation.
3 min read
09 September, 2016

Hajj bracelets

Almost two million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia, with Saudi officials taking new steps to ensure public safety.

Saudi authorities say they have done all they can to prepare for the five-day pilgrimage, having carried out emergency drills with civil servants.

Last year's Hajj (pilgrimage) was marked by the deaths of over 2,400 people on September 24, 2015, which Saudi Arabia has yet to fully explain.

In light of criticisms from embassies last year that identification of bodies proved difficult, officials have this year been issuing pilgrims with bracelets which can be used to identify pilgrims in case of emergency.

Each bracelet carries a bar-code which gives information on the pilgrim's identity, nationality and temporary address.

"The aim is to equip all pilgrims from abroad, who are expected to number more than 1.4 million,” Issa Rawas, vice secretary of the Saudi ministry of hajj and umrah, told AFP.

Due to various regional conflicts in the Middle East, there have been a number of additional controversies surrounding this year's Hajj, an event that Islamic law states should be kept apolitical.

Iran announced it would boycott this year's Hajj in May, following a deterioration in relations, as Saudis executed a top Shia cleric and Iranian protestors stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Iran, Saudi Arabia's main enemy in the region made the claim that around 500 of those killed in last year's stampede were Iranian and accused the Saudi royal family of negligence.

"The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers - instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst," Khamenei said.

According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia's most senior religious authority, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh told the Makkah newspaper in reaction to Khamenei's statement, Wednesday: "We have to understand that they are not Muslims ... Their main enemies are Sunnis."

Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance, Sheikh Saleh Al-Sheikh, said that Iran "represents a major offensive to Muslims in the pilgrimage because they do not want the pilgrimage to pass in peace."

Meanwhile, approximately 9000 Syrian Muslims were granted Hajj visas via a third-party outside of the country, as Saudi does not currently have diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Only Syrians in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey were able to collect visas this year.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Jazaily, an advisor at Syria's Islamic Affairs ministry, told Reuters: "Saudi Arabia now does not deal with the legitimate government (in Syria) but rather with individuals who are not recognised, and thus the responsibility for protecting these people falls on the Saudi government."