A wound too deep to heal quickly

 27 Aug 2017 - 9:20

The siege of Qatar itself is a dark chapter in the history of Gulf and the display of hostility by Saudi-led quartet from the harassment of Qatari pilgrims in Grand Mosque of Makkah in June this year to the death of camels belonging to Qatari people in Saudi deserts has left lasting imprint on the memory of Qatari nation.

Also, it is difficult for Qataris to forget forced separations between blood relations; false allegations leveled against their homeland; closure of land, air and sea routes; stoppage of food supplies to Qatar; and unending smear campaign aimed at tarnishing Qatar’s growing glow.

But, all these painful happenings vanish into thin air when Qataris talk about the bitterest fact of banning them from performing Haj — the fifth pillar of Islam — for the first time in history due to obdurate attitude of Saudi government which despite global condemnation politicised the annual religious ritual for its yet-little-defined interests.

All appeals repeatedly made by the State of Qatar and world human rights organisations for not dragging Haj into the current Gulf crisis have fallen on deaf ears and Saudi Arabia did not open official channels with Qatar required to facilitate Haj campaign. Now it is too late to establish such contacts and the intending pilgrims from Qatar have been forced not to perform the sacred religious duty this year about which The Quran says, “And Haj to the House (Kaaba) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses.”

It is a wound on the souls of Qataris which is too deep to be healed even with the medicine of time. In words of J K Rowling: “Some wounds run too deep for the healing.”

Few days ago, Swiss Organisation for Protection of Human Rights (SPH) urged the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, to take necessary measures to ensure that Qatari pilgrims have the right to practice their religious rites without discrimination or restriction, as recognised by relevant international principles and conventions.

SPH has said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is violating the rights to religious practice as the Saudi authorities have prevented Qatari citizens from exercising their religious rites recognised in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief, and the freedom to express them in education, practice and observance, whether in secret or with the community”.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor also urged the European Union Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion outside the Union Jan Figel to “intervene to ensure that religious rituals are not used to achieve political goals”, by removing all restrictions imposed on the Qatari pilgrims by the Saudi authorities.

It is very unfortunate that the human rights activists from the West are raising their voice against this violation of basic human right to practice religious rites but the Islamic scholars of the Muslim world are staying tight lipped.     

A number of painful events have occurred since the siege countries imposed blockade against Qatar on June 5 but barring Qataris from Haj is the wound unlikely to be healed easily. Politicisation of the Haj is the most repulsive tool the blockading countries have employed to advance their political agendas attached with the siege of Qatar.

Apparently it is a criminal act of Saudi government not to allow Qataris to perform Haj but any right thinking person can easily understand that other three siege countries including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are hands in gloves with Saudi authorities and be held equally responsible for the injustice done with Muslims of Qatar.

After wasting all crucial time in which Haj arrangements are officially finalised between two countries, Saudi Arabia in a politically motivated move ‘reopened its border’ to Qatari pilgrims last week. The reopening of the border is nothing but a ploy designed to play to the gallery and repel international criticism Saudi-led alliance is facing for violating basic human rights.

Following a standard practice, Qatar’s Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Haj and Umrah of Saudi Arabia signed an agreement for Haj on February 21 this year. Since the blockade was imposed, Saudi side cut all contacts with Qatar which failed the whole Haj campaign and arrangements related to it like land and air transport, accommodation, the number of pilgrims etc.

The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic affairs of Qatar announced that they had communicated with the concerned bodies in the Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah to know the arrangements for the Qatari pilgrims under the current conditions, but they found no cooperation or any positive response from the ministry of Haj in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that resulted in confusing and stopping the regulatory process for the Qatari pilgrims.

Even after announcing the ‘reopening of the border’, Saudi authorities did not restore essential contacts with authorities concerned in Qatar to facilitate the pilgrims. How can a Qatari pilgrim perform religious ritual when Haj campaign operators are clueless about Saudi policy, when Qatar’s consulate in Jeddah is closed, Qatar Airways is not allowed to enter Saudi airspace and money transfer channels have also been suspended?

After experiencing the painful events occurred in early June when Qataris were stopped from entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Qatar is also keen to ensure the safety of its citizens.

Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has recently said that Saudi authorities have yet to respond to queries from the Qatar’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs regarding the security of Qatari citizens during Haj.

To hide their flagrant violations of human rights and deflect international criticism, the blockading countries are still trying to raise a smoke screen with fabricated news stories. They misreported the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in UK (AOHR) claiming that it had submitted a complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religions and the High Commissioner for Human Rights against Qatar concerning this year’s pilgrimage. The fake report was swiftly rebutted by the AOHR.

The organisation denounced the news published on its behalf accusing Qatar of violating the right of its citizens by preventing them from practising religious rites. The organisation has said that “it has not received any complaint from Qatari pilgrims”.

AOHR also stressed that the content of the published news was misleading, false, and irrelevant, and that it was deliberately fabricated without any proof, and considered the websites and newspapers which published the news as unprofessional.

Few days ago, Saudi Arabia also blamed Qatar that it had banned Saudi Arabian flights from landing in the country to transport Muslim pilgrims to Makkah.

Qatar Civil Aviation Authority described the report as “baseless news” further saying that it had received a request from the Saudi carrier for permission to land and had referred the airline to the ministry of Islamic affairs “in accordance with past practices”. How can such Haj related requests be entertained by QCAA when the Saudi authorities are not willing to restore severed contacts with Qatar’s Awqaf Ministry?

Anthony Harwood has exposed the same dependence of Saudi media on fake news in his report “Saudi Arabia has started spreading its own ‘fake news’ in the latest bizarre turn in its row with Qatar” appeared in The Independent last week.

As Qataris are in sheer disappointment over Saudi Arabia’s pay-no-heed policy, the Muslims across the globe are raising questions how can an Islamic country with Muslim rulers in power stop Muslims of another Islamic state from performing their religious duty while Islam guarantees religious rights of non-Muslims as well?  

The writer is a Doha-based journalist.