Saudi Arabia Denies Any Iranian Pilgrim Would be Barred
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Saudi Arabia said Monday it would not bar Iranians from making a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine and scene of violent rioting last year.
″There is no trend ... to bar any Moslem from performing the pilgrimage rites,″ a government official was quoted by the Saudi Press Agency as saying.
Dates will be announced soon by the responsible authorities regarding the commencement of entry formalities, said the official, a representative the Ministry of Pilgrimage and Wakf, religious endowments.
The agency did not provide the official’s name, but said he made the statement in response to ″recent claims by some Iranian responsible officials regarding a trend to bar Iranians from this year’s pilgrimage.″
The Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina harbor Islam’s most sacred shrines, and Moslems from all over the world converge on the kingdom for the annual pilgrimage, falling this year in the latter part of July, according to the lunar calendar.
Thousands of Iranian pilgrims staged a political demonstrations last year and more than 400, most of them Iranians, were killed in subsequent clashes with Saudi riot police.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef has issued stern warnings that no political activity would be allowed during pilgrimage.
Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Hojatoleslam Mohammed Khatami challenged the Saudi statements recently, insisting that Iranian pilgrims were planning political rallies again this year.
Iran is Persian and Shiite, while the Sunni sect generally dominates in Persian Gulf Arab nations. The deep division between Shiites and Sunnis began with a split in Islam centuries ago.