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‘Not allowed’, Saudi Arabia arrests Muslims praying for Gaza in Mecca and Madina

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The ongoing conflict in Middle-East has changed the diplomatic equations across the world. Saudi Arabia has started arresting Muslims, who are displaying support for Gaza and praying for Palestine at the Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

A British presenter and actor who was on a Islamic pilgrimage with his family in Mecca said he was detained by soldiers for wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.

Islah Abdur-Rahman decided to go on the Islamic pilgrimage in late October, and has raised concerns over the crackdown on any symbols or displays of solidarity for Palestine in Saudi Arabia.

“I was stopped by four soldiers for wearing a white keffiyeh around my head and a Palestinian coloured tasbih [rosary beads] around my wrist,” he told Middle East Eye.

“I was escorted to an off-site location where they detained people for possible crimes or offences. Once I was detained, there were other soldiers who interrogated me and asked me about my nationality, why I’m here, where I travelled from, how long I’m here for.”

The soldiers then asked Abdur-Rahman to replicate how he was wearing the keffiyeh, while they discussed it and took his visa.

“It was evident that the scarf was the issue,” he said. “They were talking in Arabic but they kept saying ‘Palestinian keffiyeh’ and looking at the scarf.

“Eventually, when I was let go, a worker came up to me, picked up my scarf and said, ‘This is not good, Israel-Palestine is not good, so don’t wear it, it’s not allowed.’” 

Abdur-Rahman was then made to sign a release form and give his fingerprints, after handing in the keffiyeh.

The last place Abdur-Rahman expected to find himself in was a detention centre, during what was supposed to be a spiritual religious pilgrimage. The experience was a complete shock.

“At first, I was really scared, because I was in a country that’s not mine, I have no rights and they could do anything to me and I would not have a say, so I was afraid,” he explained. 

“Then, my fear turned into heartbreak… the heartbreak got worse when I realized that this is just an ounce of what Palestinians must go through.”

Abdur-Rahman’s story is similar to other testimonies shared online. 

In one video shared on social media on 10 November, an Algerian man who was taking part in a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia describes being arrested by Saudi authorities “for sympathising with Palestinians and praying for them”.

“I was detained for more than six hours for supplicating for our brothers in Palestine,” he says in the video.

“I am not sharing this just for the sake of it, I would like to warn people everywhere, especially those who are coming to the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. I was not talking about politics or regimes.

“In Medina, I did my prayers and I took the opportunity to supplicate for the children and victims in Palestine… is it a crime to pray for the oppressed? I did not know that this was forbidden in the holy sites.

“I had not even finished my dua [prayers] before soldiers came and took my phone and they made me delete a video where I was praying for people in Gaza.”

He ends the video by warning people to be careful when visiting the holy sites, and that he was told he was lucky he was released, and that he has heard that others were held for much longer. He also noted that an Indonesian woman, who had a Palestinian flag on her hijab, was also detained. 

Prominent sheikhs have also hinted that people should not make explicit comments or gestures regarding the war. 

On 10 November, the head of Saudi Arabia’s religious affairs at the Grand Mosque, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, suggested that people should not interfere or get involved in what is happening in Gaza.

“You are seeing what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Palestine, what else should we do towards them, other than pray for them,” he said. 

“Muslims should not give in to these provocations and let the events divide them. They must refer back to their guardians and authorities, their scholars, and not engage in what they have no right to engage in.” 

Is normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel the reason for this act?

The normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israeli seems to be the reason for this act of Saudi Arabia. Israel is eager to have formal ties with Saudi Arabia as it is the richest Arab country in the Middle East and has the weight and influence that makes it the main player in regional politics.

Saudi Arabia already has relations with Israel, of course, and Israeli companies operate in the Kingdom, including those responsible for security during the Hajj period in Makkah. However, it is keen to have formal relations with the apartheid state in order to get US arms supplies and have its own uranium enrichment facility.

For the US, having a formal and smooth relationship between its two major allies in the Middle East will be good for its own foreign policy. Washington’s interests in the region will be protected and it will be able to implement its policies with relative ease.

The losers in all of this are the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia is no friend of the Palestinians, despite recent claims by Riyadh’s foreign minister that an independent state of Palestine is essential for normalisation to take place. Riyadh has been against the legitimate Palestinian resistance for more than two decades. Moreover, it has imposed severe restrictions on charities operating in the occupied Palestinian territories and the transfer of donations from Saudi citizens for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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