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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 August 2018

Qatar's callous attempt to disrupt Hajj has failed

Saudi authorities have responded by allowing visas on arrival for Qatari pilgrims

The holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which begins on August 19. Mast Irham / EPA 
The holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which begins on August 19. Mast Irham / EPA 

The determination of believers to complete the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, has been tested over the centuries. In the era before air travel, pilgrims endured weeks or months crossing the Arabian peninsula in caravans, which were often attacked by outlaws.

One of the worst documented examples occurred in 1757, when tribesmen fell upon one such caravan making the return trip from Makkah to Damascus, killing the Ottoman guards and slaughtering or leaving for dead in the desert some 20,000 of the faithful.

But still pilgrims, determined to fulfil their once-in-a-lifetime commitment to their faith, continued to make the perilous journey.

During the period of British rule in India, the empire’s bureaucrats wrestled constantly with the problem of impoverished Indian Muslims, duped by unscrupulous fishermen and traders into parting with whatever money they could raise for passage to Jeddah but finding themselves instead dumped on the western shore of the Gulf, over 1,200 kilometres from Makkah and with the vastness of the Rub' al Khali between them and their soul’s desire. Some were rescued by exasperated British forces; many more died in the desert.

Now, on the eve of Hajj, the faithful of Qatar face a challenge from an unexpected quarter – their own government. Embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with the quartet, Doha is attempting to prevent its citizens from performing Hajj – a decision rightly condemned by Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, as perverse and disgraceful – by blocking access to Saudi's online registration portal.

It should be unthinkable that the Hajj, a central tenet of the faith with which all Muslims are obliged to comply if they are physically able, would be exploited for political gain. That Qatar has chosen to do so demeans its government, insults its own people and offends Muslims everywhere.

The Saudis, who take extremely seriously their responsibility as custodians of the twin holy places, are doing everything they can to facilitate the passage of Qataris, including offering Qataris hajj visas on arrival, as The National reports today. Hopefully Qatar’s Muslims, like the numberless, determined legions of the faithful in whose footsteps they follow, will find a way through.

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