Since news broke of Iran severing all commercial ties with Saudi Arabia, after the execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia and the attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran, major media outlets published inaccurate information about the Iranian “ban on pilgrimage.”
I guess in the flurry of journalistic excitement on the issue, and the apparently growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, journalists forgot to fact-check the difference between Umrah and Hajj. A huge difference.
Did Iran ban their citizens from going to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj? Or is it a ban on Umrah? Or is it Umrah-Hajj? Wait… what is Umrah Hajj?
The article that Joshua Keating wrote in Slate Magazine yesterday said:
A few hours later, the magazine published a correction stating that their original report on a Hajj ban was “misstated.” Slate wrote in a correction,
“While CNN reported that all pilgrimages had been banned, Iran only reaffirmed an existing ban on the Umrah, or ‘lesser pilgrimage’. The post has been edited in several places, including the headlines, to reflect this change.”
To confirm whether it was a ban on Hajj or Umrah, a Saudi reporter of The Wall Street Journal, Ahmed Al Omran, said that it was a ban on Umrah only according to his article, which stated,
“Iran’s cabinet on Thursday banned imports of Saudi-made products, IRNA reported… It also announced that off-season pilgrimages to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia were on hold until further notice.”
So, let’s take a look at the actual difference between Umrah and Hajj.
Off-season pilgrimage means Umrah, which is a trip Muslims make to Mecca at any time of the year. It’s non-obligatory, but recommended. Hajj, however, is performed on specific dates on the last month of the Islamic calendar, and it is one of the main five pillars of Islam. Muslims are obliged to perform Hajj once in their lifetime if they are financially capable of doing so. Which is why, had Iran banned Hajj along with Umrah, the religious implications and societal upheaval would be much greater. That’s why everyone was freaking out before corrections were made.
That’s also why it’s important to call out the bad reporting that, unfortunately, persists. Without any sources or references, CNN insisted that Iran told Iranians “they can’t join pilgrimages to its holy cities of Mecca and Medina,” as Ivana Kottasova wrote.
It gets worse, though.
Reuters was extra creative and came up with a new religious terminology, combining the two concepts in one and calling it “Umrah hajj”. In their article Reuters stated,
Arash Karami, who covers Iran media for Al-Monitor, tweeted that there were two things that the media has gotten all wrong.
The New York Times reported in April last year that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani imposed a ban on religious travel that applies to Umrah. “A pilgrimage that can be taken to Mecca any time of the year. It is unclear whether it will be extended to the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that this year takes place in September,” said the article.
None of the above media outlets mentioned this piece of information about last year’s Umrah ban.
What does this bad reporting say about the accuracy and integrity of journalists?