WASHINGTON, May 2, 2015 – “Are you Shia?” This is the questions Muslims are forced to answer as they apply for Hajj pilgrimage.
Every year, around three million pilgrims visit the city of Mecca. The process of getting a visa is either via a travel agency or via applications directly from other countries. Due to limited space and lack of Saudi service during that time, Saudi officials have arranged for different countries to limit the number of people they can send to the Hajj pilgrimage.
Some countries have created a ministry of Hajj to deal with limitations or discrimination against Shia who are attempting to participate in Hajj.
Every year, people from different sects of Islam practice this holy ritual, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia. All Muslim pilgrims follow the same path and practice the same ritual.
Unfortunately, Saudi authorities have taken steps to to politicize the pilgrimage and have shown disrespect to Shia Muslims. This is particularly difficult this year, as the Saudi-Iranian proxy war across the Middle East has accelerated.
Saudi authorities use the propaganda of Iranian agents to exclude the Shia from their community and pressure them as outsiders.
This year, for the first time, Saudi Arabia included a question on the Hajj application specifically asking whether the applicant is Shia. This shows the clear discrimination toward Shia Muslims since Saudi Arabia is separating Shia Muslims from others even in their applications.
Saudi Arabia has a long history of discrimination toward different religions. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in the its 2015 report, recommended that Saudi authorities take a step forward and ensure the equality of rights and protection of Shia Muslims.
The action is not only discriminatory, but it also deprives Shia Muslims of the right to participate in Hajj.