Hajj application asks: ‘Are you Shia?’By Zahid Gishkori, Dawn Newspaper

ISLAMABAD, April 30: Pakistani pilgrims wishing to perform Hajj this year will have to declare whether they are Shia on their Hajj application forms if they have any hopes of making the sacred pilgrimage.

Confirming that the conditions had been forward by Saudi Arabia, government officials responsible for making Hajj arrangements said, “Saudi Arabia will not entertain any Hajj application from aspirants that fail to specify whether the applicant is a Shia or a Sunni.”

Taking Saudi requirement seriously, the government has added a question on page eight of the Hajj application form with the question “Are you Shia.”

The Ministry of Religious Affairs Spokesperson Muhammad Farooq said, “Aspirants are supposed to fill it with: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”

Riyadh has made it mandatory for all Hajj pilgrims to declare their sect as it fears that sectarian tensions could rise in the kingdom owing to the conflict in Yemen.

“Saudis do not want a repeat of the 1987 demonstrations during the Hajj pilgrimage, which led to the deaths of over 400 people in Makkah,” a senior official of Pakistan Hajj mission observed.

Religious affairs ministry officials, who are facilitating applicants (under government scheme) for getting visa, said the Saudi authorities also slightly amended the new Hajj visa form requirements. Though officials insisted that there was no such written instruction from Saudi authorities. But they said that the decision to insert the question was taken at a high level.

On the other hand, the religious affairs ministry spokesperson claimed that the question had been added on the request of representatives of Shia community in the country in order to prevent exploitation of the ‘mehram’ rule by Sunni women for performing hajj. Shia women, unlike their Sunni counterparts, can perform Hajj without a ‘mehram’. There have been reports that Sunni women have in the past exploited this provision.

Commenting on the new condition put forward by the Saudi Arabia, Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi said that he supports the Saudi move, adding that every country has the right to set new terms and condition to ensure better security.

“It’s not a new move. Pilgrims should abide by Saudi laws and declare their sect. Pilgrims are treated equally regardless of their sect,” he stated.

Amin Shaheedi, a representative of the Shia community in the Council for Islamic Ideology, said that, “We have no problem with this new addition. If Saudis are satisfied with this new move, Shia community is ready to abide by newly amended laws.”

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