Thursday, 23 May, 2024
Thursday, 23 May, 2024
The Daily Post

Iranian pilgrims head to Saudi after 9 years

Staff Reporter

Iranian pilgrims head  to Saudi after 9 years


Dozens of Iranians headed yesterday to Saudi Arabia to perform the umrah pilgrimage for the first time in nine years, in the latest indication of improved relations between Riyadh and Tehran, according to Al-Monitor.

A group of 85 pilgrims took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran early on Monday. Saudi Ambassador to Tehran Abdullah bin Saud al-Anzi attended the departure ceremony, in the presence of several Iranian officials, including the supreme leader's representative in Hajj and Pilgrimage Affairs, Seyyed Abdul Fattah Nawab, according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society said in a post on the X platform that it dispatched 13 volunteer medical workers to accompany the pilgrims to the Gulf kingdom.

IRNA cited Mohammad-Hossein Ajilian, the official in charge of hajj operations in the Iran Airports Company, as saying that 11 flights are currently scheduled to take pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from various Iranian airports. He added that a total of 5,720 pilgrims are expected to travel to the kingdom this year for the umrah pilgrimage.

Yesterday’s umrah flight is the first since Iran suspended all umrah pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia in April 2015. The decision at the time came following reports that two Iranian youths were sexually assaulted at the airport in Jeddah by Saudi security officers while en route to the Islamic holy sites. The ban excluded the hajj pilgrimage, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory for all Muslims to make at least once.

Umrah, known as Islam's lesser major pilgrimage as it is not compulsory, is performed by Muslims all year long. The Iranian move back then had strained the already tense relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran that had been vying for years for influence and power in the region. A year later, the two countries severed their diplomatic ties after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, which prompted violent protests at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

Last March, the two regional foes reached a landmark deal, which China helped mediate, to restore their diplomatic ties and reopen their embassies. In December, Iran announced that umrah flights to Saudi Arabia would be resumed after the kingdom agreed to lift restrictions on Iranians wanting to travel to the holy cities. But the flights were repeatedly delayed over Saudi Arabia’s failure to provide the necessary permits for the entry of Iranian planes into Saudi airports, Iran Air spokesperson Hessam Qorbanali had told state television.

Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s most sacred cities of Mecca and Medina, attracting millions of Muslims from around the world to perform pilgrimages. Several deadly accidents and stampedes have occurred during past pilgrimage seasons due to overcrowding, often prompting criticism of Saudi Arabia's management.

During the hajj season in September 2015, more than 2,000 pilgrims were crushed to death in a stampede in Mina, near Mecca, in one of the worst hajj disasters ever recorded. Nearly 500 of the victims were Iranian. Iran accused the Saudi authorities of incompetence and failure to provide security for the pilgrims, calling for new management of the hajj.