BAGHDAD –Iraqi powerful Shia cleric and leader of the Sadrist movement Muqtada al-Sadr joined this week the ranks of Islamist politicians who have been using the campaign of support for Islam’s Prophet Mohammed to score political gains and win new supporters.
Sadr on Thursday called on Muslims around the world to travel to Saudi Arabia, at a time when the MENA region is facing a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic which is proving more dangerous than the first one, with countries announcing closures to contain a much-feared health disaster.
Sadr’s supporters launched the hashtag #Invitation_to_Saudi Arabia, based on a statement published by the Shia cleric on his Twitter account, in which he said, “From the standpoint of unity and strength, I call for the support of the Messenger of humanity through several actions. First and foremost, I call on Saudi Arabia to allow visitors from all over the world to flock to the shrine of the Prophet in Medina.”
In the statement published on Thursday, Sadr also called on Muslims to visit the grave of the Prophet during the week of birth (Mawlid) from 12 to 17 Rabi` al-Awwal of this year and every year.
Many Iraqis responded to Sadr’s statement with sarcasm and mockery, considering that the Shia cleric’s call showed he was clueless and out of his mind.
They considered that Sadr, like other Islamist politicians, was trying to take advantage of the latest controversy to promote his image and win new supporters, even if that meant causing new chaos and trouble for the country.
“He calls for peace but he has an armed militia,” a Twitter user reacted sarcastically to Sadr’s statements.
Another user tweeted, “Saudi Arabia and its people should ignore these statements because, my dears, this is nonsense and foolery.”
Many other activists on social media said that Sadr’s so-called appeal for love and humanity was but a new incitement against Saudi Arabia that prevented the entry of foreign pilgrims to perform hajj and Umrah in an attempt to contain the pandemic.
On the other hand, many Shia clerics, the activists added, had rallied supporters to visit shrines, unconcerned with the health repercussions of massive gatherings. This, according to the activists, has caused the coronavirus pandemic to spread and threaten many lives in Iraq and elsewhere.
Other Iraqis on social media warned that whoever caused the killing of demonstrators and young activists in Iraq, cannot be trusted.
“To our people in # Saudi Arabia, this call was raised by the supporters of the Sadrist movement who killed protesters in the October Revolution. You and the whole world were witness to that… You are the decision-makers. Do not give them a way to communicate with you… These are the leaders of the terrorist Khamenei militia,” an Iraqi Twitter user warned.
The Sadrists’ hashtag was not without misinformation, rumours and fake news, as some of supporters of the Shia movement claimed that Saudi Arabia had agreed to Sadr’s call to allow the visit of foreign pilgrims.
The claim was of course groundless because the Saudi authorities had already announced on Thursday a new plan to receive visiting pilgrims, taking into account social distancing and required measures to contain the virus.
Saudi media had earlier reported that the kingdom will open the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims from other countries from November 1 as part of the third phase of gradually allowing the pilgrimage amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kingdom reopened the Holy sites on October 4, first for Saudi citizens and expatriates living inside the country with a 30 percent capacity. It then expanded the capacity to 75 percent on October 18.
“The Umrah pilgrimage is allowed for Muslims from across the world,” Saudi state TV said, citing a statement from the Ministry of Pilgrimage.
In the third phase, Umrah pilgrimage will be allowed with 100 percent capacity limit that ensures adherence to coronavirus precautionary measures, which translates to 20,000 Umrah pilgrims per day and 60,000 worshippers per day, the ministry said.
The same capacity limit will be enforced in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
“The arrival of pilgrims and visitors from outside the Kingdom will be gradual, and from countries that the Ministry of Health determines as posing no health risk with regards to the coronavirus,” the statement of the ministry added.
Worshipers perform the prayers with full commitment to preventive measures, and the paths designated for worshipers to enter the Grand Mosque have been facilitated by the authorities who have specified areas for performing prayers.
In the fourth phase, the kingdom will allow citizens and nationals inside and outside the Kingdom to perform Umrah pilgrimage, visit the Rawdah in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, and pray in Two Holy Mosques, with 100 percent of the natural capacity of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.
The fourth phase, however, will only begin once the Saudi authorities decide that the pandemic’s risks are neutralised.
In media statements, Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said that the mechanism for organising Umrah of foreign pilgrims requires specific procedures, including submitting a request to perform Umrah with all personal and health data, with a maximum of 50 people per group from the permitted countries, and the need for a foreign Umrah agent.
Under the mechanism, there is a need for high-quality integrated Umrah packages and flight reservations will be based on supply and demand from each country, in addition to strengthening the marketing platforms for the purchase of services.
The countries, which are sending pilgrims, will be classified on the basis of periodic review of the latest developments with regard to the coronavirus situation in those countries.
Maddah stated that the protocols issued by the ministry for the foreign pilgrims include that their age shall be between 18 and 50 years and that they must remain three days in quarantine upon their arrival in the Kingdom.
According to the regulations, pilgrims must have a PCR medical test certificate showing that they are free from coronavirus, issued by a reliable laboratory in their country, not more than 72 hours from the time of taking a sample until the time of departure to the kingdom.