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Saudi official: Israel does not ban Muslims from Hajj while other countries do

A Muslim pilgrim reads from a prayer leaflet atop Mount Arafat near the Saudi holy city of Mecca on August 20, 2018
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (AFP)
The statement is viewed by some as potential evidence of the Muslim kingdom normalizing relations with Israel

Saudi Arabia’s minister of Islamic Affairs praised Israel for not hindering its Muslim population from performing the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca unlike some Islamic countries in a video posted to Twitter by Saudi news on Tuesday.

“The state of Israel, from what we know of it, has not banned Muslim pilgrims from coming to the Kingdom to take part in their religious obligation, however one of the countries, as we know or have been told, have banned pilgrims from traveling,” said Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh.

Israel responded to the minister’s remarks on its Arabic Twitter account stating, “Thank God, Israel facilitated for more than 4,000 Muslim citizens to head to the holy places to complete the Hajj pilgrimage.”

Al-Sheikh did not specify which Muslim countries he was referring to, though the statement may have been a response to Qatar claiming last week that its citizens were not allowed to register for Hajj.

"There is no chance this year for Qatari citizens and residents to travel for hajj," a government official told AFP. "Registration of pilgrims from the State of Qatar remains closed and residents of Qatar cannot be granted visas as there are no diplomatic missions."

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been locked in a political feud for more than a year, with Riyadh banning all flights to and from Doha and severing diplomatic and trade ties with its neighbor.

Saudi authorities have said Qatari pilgrims were welcome at the hajj and last week denied it was blocking them from traveling to the kingdom's holy sites.

Bandar Al-DANDANI (AFP/File)

The Qatari official said the border closure and the lack of diplomatic missions and direct flights between the two countries effectively meant that no Qataris could undertake the pilgrimage.

The row over hajj is the latest frontline in a highly fractious 14-month long diplomatic dispute between the two states.

Over two million Muslims embarked on the annual hajj pilgrimage beginning on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, kicking off the six-day journey in Mecca with ritual circling of the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque -- Islam’s holiest shrine towards which the Muslim faithful pray five times each day.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, an act all Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to travel to Mecca.

Muslims believe the hajj retraces the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as those of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told journalists Saturday that over two million Muslims from dozens of countries around the world, including large contingents from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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