(MENAFN - The Peninsula) By Amna Pervaiz Rao / The Peninsula
Locals, expatriates and officials from different travel agencies have accused Saudi Arabia of politicising Haj citing restrictions on people living in Qatar planning to travel to Makkah for the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
The four Arab states have cut transport links with Qatar and Saudi Arabia has closed the peninsula's only land border for Qatar which has caused difficulties for nationals and expats.
As the custodian of Islam's holiest sites in Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia organises the annual Haj. Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which every able-bodied Muslim who is able to afford the journey is obliged to undertake at least once in a lifetime.
Officials from travel agencies claim that due to the blockade they are facing losses in their business and disappointment from several customers.
Dr Salim Al Bakri, manager at a travel agency for Haj, told The Peninsula: 'I didn't expect Qataris won't be able to apply to perform Haj this year. No preparations have been done in Saudi Arabia which includes no money transfer, transportation, food, direct airline and hotel bookings. Even if the current scenario changes, and all the ways are opened for us, people will not be able to travel as their preparations will be zero.
Discussing about the restrictions Al Bakri said: 'The restrictions are still existing in both countries; Saudi officials are saying through media that they welcome Qatari pilgrims to come and perform Haj and Umrah but the truth is restrictions are still existing among these countries.
'Regarding expatriates, every year a quota of 300 to 500 is granted to every nationality which has not been reserved so far. While they are refusing to receive 1,000 Qatari Haj registrations, Saudi has increased the Iranian quota by 35%, he added.
Highlighting the difficulties people facing in Qatar, he said: 'Expatriates have to travel to their country to perform Haj which is not easy for people living in Qatar. It means they have to book a flight through their homelands. Most of Qataris have filed complaints to Compensation Claim Committee.
On the other hand, expatriates are travelling to their homeland to perform Haj which has caused difficulties and increased their expenses.
Amir, an official at Labaik group said: 'The crisis has stopped people to perform Haj which is disappointing news for us and all the people who registered earlier through our travel agency. Saudi Arabia has not done any arrangements for people who are travelling from Qatar. Most of the people were forced to cancel their bookings which they made earlier for Haj. Embassy of Qatar is closed in Saudi Arab and Saudi Embassy has been closed in Qatar as well which has caused impossible to proceed the visa procedure.
'Expatriates who applied for Haj visa have planned the other way; they will now travel to their homeland and continue to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. This blockade has affected people living in Qatar tremendously listening to people saying they have refused to even accept Qatari Riyal, which causes more difficulties, he added
Another official from another travel agency said: 'Four months ago people applied for Haj visas and the procedure of their hotel bookings, food and transportation was launched and payments were made from Qatar. Now the current scenario does not allow us to ask for our payments back, which has caused a lot of loss to our company. It's heartbreaking that people won't be able to travel to Saudi Arabia this year from Qatar.
Haj is set to begin by the end of this month. Locals and expatriates residing in Qatar share similar views on this on-going blockade by Saudi Arabia.
Abdul Naser Al Khalifa, a Qatari national, said: 'The system which is controlled by people does not allow the pilgrims to perform Haj and Umrah. This control has destroyed the values of humanity we have in our religion. None of the religion teaches people to stop them from practising their religion. Being Muslims, we should help each other in such causes. I don't feel bad for myself but for all my brothers who are stopped to enter the Holy land.
'I pray to Allah that everything is resolved as soon as possible and we all brothers stand together without any disputes. We all should be given the chance of performing Haj and Umrah freely without any boundaries and restrictions, he added.
Muhammed, an expatriates living in Qatar for 22-years, said: 'We consider Qatar our homeland. Recently when I went to register myself for Haj I was astonished to experience that we have been blocked to go to Saudi Arabia. This caused a problem for not only to the expatriates living in Qatar but also the citizens. We all hope the disputes between these countries resolve and they bring this issue to an end. All Muslims should be free to fly and perform Haj and Umrah.
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