Hajj without Saudi Arabia, hajj without Iran

Can you imagine how services to Muslim pilgrims and care of the two holy mosques would be if Saudi Arabia did not exist? That is not to say Saudis want people to feel indebted, but who would serve like them? Their consecutive kings have chosen the title “custodian of the two holy mosques” instead of other glorifying titles granted to monarchs.

Saudi Arabia has looked after the hajj season since its establishment. Services have flourished since the days of founder and King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, who personally looked after hajj-related matters. Back then, the phrase “there’s no hajj like that performed during King Abdulaziz’s era” spread across the country.

Rashed bin Saad al-Baz wrote about the origin of this phrase: “King Abdulaziz used to send letters to other countries’ princes, leaders and tribal leaders around two months before hajj. He’d order them to count the number of needy or poor people who can’t perform hajj, either because they can’t afford it or because they have a disability.”

Baz wrote that these pilgrims were offered “unprecedented services and facilitations.” King Abdulaziz provided services to the disabled and housing to the needy. He worked on providing safe shelter for pilgrims.

For a half century now, Saudi Arabia has gotten better at securing the hajj season. Meanwhile, Iran has incited its proxies to destabilize the season since the early 1980s

Turki Aldakhil

Accusations, sabotage

However, as the hajj season approaches every year, we hear hostile accusations from Iran and isolationist Arab nationalists who envy Saudi Arabia for its strategic position and religious significance. An Arab daily even claimed that Saudi Arabia coordinated with Israel to secure the hajj season!

For a half century now, Saudi Arabia has gotten better at securing the hajj season. Meanwhile, Iran has incited its proxies in the Gulf to destabilize the season since the early 1980s. It caused massacres that were committed by Hezbollah factions in the Gulf. Confessions by faction members that they are affiliated with Iran and received official orders to disturb the hajj season in order to embarrass the Saudis have been broadcast on TV.

Tehran has been involved in many incidents that led to the death of pilgrims. One of the most prominent incidents was on July 31, 1987, when Iranian pilgrims carrying photos of then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and Iranian flags demonstrated during hajj, which led to blocked roads and the murder of pilgrims, citizens and security men.

On July 10, 1989, a Hezbollah cell in Kuwait allegedly planned explosions at the holy sites. One bomb exploded on one of the roads leading to the Grand Mosque, while another exploded above the bridge nearby. Saudi police arrested 20 Kuwaitis, 16 of them accused of planning the explosions. Their confessions were broadcast on Saudi TV.

Last year, an official from Iran’s hajj mission told Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that the stampede that killed hundreds was caused by a group of around 300 Iranian pilgrims who did not follow instructions from hajj authorities. Tehran also forged the identity of an ambassador among the pilgrims, thus violating civil laws and regulations followed in all countries.


Iranian pilgrims will not go to hajj this year. This is unfortunate, but who pushed against their attendance? Does this mean Tehran will not carry out acts of sabotage? Have we forgotten that it previously used Hezbollah cells in the Gulf, and that it can influence people of other nationalities who have the same ideology and can act on its behalf?

Iranian ideological mentality is based on historical legacies and grudges engraved and guarded in their memories. Thus hajj to them has been a provocative subject since the days of Iran’s revolution.

Its mullahs feel that Saudi Arabia carries religious and spiritual weight, which they hope to attain in the long run, but in the short term they wish to sabotage it. It is scary when God’s rites are violated by a political regime that claims to be religious, as glorifying these rites is the pinnacle of hearts’ piety.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 06, 2016.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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