International human rights organisations are voicing their concerns over the limitations 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 talk about the issue of restrictions being faced by Qatari pilgrims intend to perform Haj in Saudi Arabia.
Euro-Med Monitor said in its letter 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 highlights 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”.
Furthermore, 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 days to perform Haj 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.
Although not making the ban official, Saudi Arabia has prevented travel agencies from making the necessary arrangements for Qatari pilgrims by not allowing companies to secure accommodation and transportation within Saudi Arabia.
Also previous standing sanctions and 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, some of the main concern to the haj pilgrimage is that 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.” Additionally, Saudi Arabia identified individuals that they will deny access regardless of the manner in which they travel, the human rights watchdog says.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel Al Jubeir, in response to such concerns raised by Qatar and other international organisations, 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 further 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. Usually most pilgrims heading to Makkah to perform Haj sign a contract with Haj operators (companies) in their country; which in turn make arrangements with Saudi companies to take care of accommodation, food and transport during Haj.
Many Haj operating companies in Qatar have recently been reported to have complained about becoming victims of the restriction measures of Saudi.