Hopes fade for Qatar residents to perform Hajj
Saudi Arabia’s decision to close its embassy in Doha stops many residents from performing the pilgrimage this year.
For the last 35 years, Mohammed Shafiq, a Qatari resident from Pakistan, has been working hard to finance his once-in-a-lifetime trip to Mecca.
But his dream of performing the Hajj this year is fading fast.
In June, Saudi Arabia, which oversees and manages Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar.
The quartet withdrew their ambassadors in protest at Doha’s alleged “interference in their internal affairs” and its support of “terrorism”. Qatar denies the allegations.
They also imposed a land, sea and air blockade, making the task of procuring Hajj and Umrah visas nearly impossible.
“I want to go on Hajj but I am not allowed,” Shafiq told Al Jazeera.
“The Saudi embassy is closed so how am I supposed to go? … I am an old man [this could be my last chance] and maybe I will die tomorrow.”
With only hours left before the start of the pilgrimage, Shafiq says his only other option is to travel through Pakistan.
But for someone who has lived in Qatar’s capital, Doha, for so long, he thinks it is unfair he should to pay to travel so far to a country so close.
Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims worldwide are expected to make at least once in their lifetime, if they are able to. More than two million people from around the world have converged this year for the pilgrimage.
Last month, Saudi Arabia said Qataris wanting to perform this year’s Hajj would be allowed to enter the kingdom, but imposed certain restrictions including that those arriving by plane must use airlines in agreement with Riyadh.
They failed to clarify their position on how expatriates could perform the pilgrimage and refused to establish consular services for the duration of the Hajj, an offer the kingdom extended to its arch rival Iran.
Qatari authorities subsequently accused Saudi Arabia of politicising Hajj and jeopardising the pilgrimage to Mecca by refusing to guarantee their pilgrims’ safety.
Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) said in a statement “that the Hajj cannot be used for political and personal calculations or mediations, rather, it is a right guaranteed by international agreements on human rights and Islamic law”.
Jumah al-Kuwari, the head of the Doha Group Transport Company for Hajj and Umrah, told Al Jazeera that Saudi Arabia’s refusal to communicate with its neighbour had wreaked havoc with travel plans.
“The Qatari Ministry of Islamic Affairs would coordinate the pilgrimage with the Saudis, but since the crisis started, no one would answer. Many residents who were accepted got their passports back without a visa,” he said.
“Most pilgrims sign up to Hajj companies which takes care of their food, transport and accommodation. But, because of the Gulf crisis and restrictions on travel, these companies are unable to make the necessary arrangements.”
So, as about two million Muslims from around the world begin the Hajj pilgrimage at Islam’s holiest sites, Qataris and expatriates in Doha will have to wait on Saudi Arabia to ease their demands if they are to go next year.