Iran have banned its pilgrims from travelling to Saudi Arabia to take part in the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, accusing the country of failing to guarantee the safety of Iranian citizens.
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia remain high after the countries cut off diplomatic ties with each other following the execution of a Shia Cleric in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials refused to provide Iranian pilgrims with consular support or guarantee the security of pilgrims, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in an interview with the Channel 3 television program in Iran.
Addressing “the lovers of Holy Shrines” in a statement, the Iranian Hajj Organization said it and the Islamic Republic of Iran put in every effort to honor the annual rituals. But ongoing talks with Saudi had been futile.
“Our efforts have remained unheard by Saudis, since they would not issue visa for Iranians somewhere inside Iran, thus rendering it impossible to use Iran Air flights to transfer the passengers,” the statement said.
However, the Head of the Public Court in Saudi’s Medina region, Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Abdulrahman bin Sulaiman Mohaimeed, said Iran had other motives.
“The Iranian Hajj Organization’s refusal to sign the minutes of the Hajj arrangements shows an intent of distorting the rite of Hajj and politicizing it before its own people and the world,” Sheikh Mohaimeed said in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency.
At least 769 people were killed in a stampede at the holiest Muslim pilgrimage site on September 24 last year. Among the dead were 464 Iranians, according to state media reports. Iran also claimed that the overall death toll was higher and the two contending nations were locked in a war of words.
This isn’t the first time a ban has been discussed. Earlier this year, Iran banned all imports from Saudi Arabia and told Iranians they can’t join pilgrimages to its holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The move followed Saudi’s decision to break off diplomatic and economic ties with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was attacked.
It also hits the Saudi economy where it hurts. Saudi makes around $18 billion a year from religious tourism, and Iranians comprise one of the biggest groups of visitors, estimated at around 600,000.
Expected to take place in September this year, more than two million Muslims took part in Hajj last year, making the journey from Mina to the Plain of Arafat at sunrise.
Known as the fifth pillar of Islam, the Hajj is an obligation upon every Muslim who has the financial means and the physical ability to perform it.
The last major clash between Saudi and Iran at the holy site was in 1987 when more than 400 people, mainly Iranian Shiite pilgrims, were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces during anti-Western protests in Mecca.