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Iranians make first umrah pilgrimage since Saudi ties restored

By AFP

April 22, 2024 03:37 PM


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Iranian Muslims travelled Monday to Saudi Arabia for umrah, a year-round pilgrimage they had been barred from for almost a decade over a rift between Tehran and Riyadh, Iranian state media said.

"The first group of umrah pilgrims departed Iran for Saudi Arabia through the Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran", official news agency IRNA reported.

They are the first Iranians to make the pilgrimage since Tehran and Riyadh agreed in a China-brokered deal last year to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies after more than nine years.

Iranians have already been allowed back at the hajj pilgrimage last year, but the umrah had remained off-limits for them until now.

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran severed ties in 2016 after Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked during protests over Riyadh's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Iranian state media has said in recent months that pilgrims would be able to head to the Saudi holy city of Mecca for umrah, but blamed technical difficulties for repeated delays.

IRNA said a total of 5,720 Iranian umrah pilgrims were planned to head to Saudi Arabia this year.

The Saudi ambassador to Tehran, Abdullah bin Saud al-Anazi, was present at the airport along with several Iranian officials to send off the first group of pilgrims Monday.

Muslims can make the umrah pilgrimage to Mecca at any time of the year, in contrast to the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam which takes place on specific dates according to the lunar calendar.


AFP


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