Will Iranian Pilgrims forsake Mecca for Karbala?

By Ali Mamouri for Al Monitor. Any views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Saudi newspapers reported Sept. 15 that Shiites are expected to replace their pilgrimage to Mecca with religious visits to Iraq’s Karbala instead.

According Al-Riyadh newspaper, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa allowing “going on pilgrimage to Karbala and other holy shrines in Iraq instead of Mecca this year.”

The decision came following Khamenei's scathing comments against the Saudi royal family Sept. 7, addressing it as “a damned malicious tree” and urging the formation of a fact-finding committee to probe last year's hajj stampede in which more than 460 Iranians were killed. Khamenei also denounced what he called the kingdom’s poor management of holy places.

Last year, Iran and some other Islamic countries called for withdrawing management of the hajj from Saudi Arabia in favor of a joint Islamic management of the pilgrimage affairs.

The news has gone viral in the Arab media and was taken as fact without any checking. However, no such fatwa by Khamenei has yet appeared.

Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars, which is widely respected in the global Sunni community, commented, “According to Sharia, pilgrimage ought to be performed at a certain time and to a certain destination. Any visit outside this time frame and location that are set in the Sharia is not considered a valid pilgrimage no matter the fatwas issued to this effect.”

The Saudi Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported Sept. 10 that 1 million Iranians had flocked to Karbala to perform their pilgrimage instead of visiting Mecca in the time of hajj. However, according to the Iranian consul in Karbala, there were no more than 60,000 Iranian pilgrims there at the time of the Asharq Al-Awsat report.

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