Just earlier this week, Iran enforced a strict ban forbidding any of its citizens from participation in Hajj, the annually offered and once-in-a-lifetime required major Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This proceeds a ban placed in April on the minor pilgrimage Umrah, which can alternatively be performed by Muslims any time of the year. This early spring motion had no effect on the major Hajj, which takes place later in September this year, but did largely materialize out of a series of complaints against Saudi officials by Iranian pilgrims.
Both restrictions substantiate an aggressive 2016 between the two rivals, which inaugurated with the Saudi government executing of 47 Shiite clerics, including the prominent Nimr al-Nimr. The two main denominations of Islam, Sunni and Shia, compose about 85-90% and 10-15% breakdowns of the faith respectively. While Saudi identifies as heavily Sunni, Iran is the known Shiite powerhouse in the region. The resounding difference between the two sects originates in the exact lineage of rightful caliphates following the Prophet Muhammad his death, though the delineation has historically offered an arbitrary excuse to point fingers in the name of religion.
Despite the urgent significance of the Umrah ban earlier in April, the Hajj prohibition marks complete lack of respect and cooperation between the two nations.
Following the January executions – which also happened to be Saudi’s largest set in almost four decades – citizens flooded Tehran in protest, which included setting fire to the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital. The incident led Saudi to announce an official severing of diplomatic ties with Iran, officially escalating yet another set of alarming affairs plaguing the Middle East.
Though no ban had been set on pilgrims at the time, many Iranian travelers on Umrah soon after reported unfair, offensive, and harmful treatment by Saudi officials while in the Kingdom, including a notable instance of sexual assault by Saudi airport workers targeting two teenagers. Such a headline, however, was reported as just one of many by pilgrims throughout their times in not only the airports, but also hotels, city centers, markets, mosques, and around the Holy Kabah.
The exact stated rationale for the ban follows Iran’s claim that Saudi rejected its requests to ensure the safety of its citizens in demands the Saudi labeled as consisting as far too special of treatment, especially compared to any other nation participating.
No clear timeline had been set for the ban, though it is stopping this the 2016 set of 600,000 Iranian travelers who constitute a distinct portion of the 18 billion dollars Saudi accumulates for pilgrimage tourism annually.