Iran and Saudi Arabia will come together for rare meeting to discuss Hajj pilgrimage

The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage that all Muslims must compulsorily make to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. It is part of carrying out their religious duties as a Muslim.

In September 2015, the pilgrimage was a complete disaster when a deadly stampede broke loose and killed almost 2,500 people, most of them being Iranians, as well as pilgrims from 36 other countries.

This tragedy caused severe tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iranian leaders began to question the safety of their citizens living in Saudi Arabia and locals traveling to Saudi Arabia for their annual pilgrimage. They also questioned if any safety measures would be taken by Saudi officials to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening again.

To resolve these issues, Iran has decided to send a team of delegates to Saudi Arabia to discuss safety arrangements for their citizens living locally and abroad while they make their visit to Mecca. This will be the first official meeting between the two superpowers since the deadly disaster in September 2015 caused tension to mount between the two rivals.

Saeed Ohadi who is the head of the Hajj organization in Iran claimed that Saudi authorities have officially invited Tehran to send a team of delegates to Riyadh on April 14 to discuss and deliberate on safety measures and preparations to be undertaken for the Hajj pilgrimage which is set to happen again in September 2016. Iran accepted Saudi’s invitation and is apparently still waiting for the arrival of their visas and will be expected to meet the Hajj minister of Saudi Arabia.

Based on the outcomes of the discussions and deliberations of the meeting between the two countries’ delegates, the fate of Hajj 2016 will be decided, Ohadi told a local news agency in Iran. Not only will they discuss this year’s safety measures for the Hajj pilgrims, but will also settle a compensation figure for the relatives and dependents of 461 Iranians who were crushed to death in the Hajj 2015 disaster.

Saudi officials and agencies have also been criticized for their lack of interest in conducting a thorough investigation into the exact number of people killed in last years’ Hajj catastrophe and the actual cause for the stampede. The Hajj incident elevated already existing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as the two superpowers follow different sects of the Islamic religion – Shiite and Sunni respectively.

Problems between the two countries escalated in January 2016 when Iranian protestors set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran after the Saudi government sentenced an outspoken Shiite priest, thus breaking off all diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.