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Islamic scholars, NGOs call for Makkah, Madinah to be placed under international control

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in their holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali - RC185FAF31A0
Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia on 8 August 2019 [REUTERS/Waleed Ali]

A non-governmental organisation named the International Commission to Monitor Saudi Administration of the Two Holy Mosques – otherwise known as Al Haramain Watch – has launched an campaign and petition to establish an international administration to manage the affairs of the two holy mosques of Makkah and Madinah.

The campaign, which has already resulted in the support of around 100 Muslim scholars and human rights activists, aims to target Muslim-majority and Arab countries, as well as Muslim communities in Europe and the United States, in order to raise awareness of the policies recently enacted by Saudi Arabia with regards to the cities' administration and pilgrimage.

According to Al Haramain Watch, the kingdom is violating both international law and the morals of its founders by failing to protect the unequivocal rights of Muslims' access to the holy sites. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has enforced a number of limitations on certain groups and nations in making the Hajj pilgrimage and from visiting the country, with examples being the ongoing ban of Qatari nationals from making the pilgrimage and the ban of Iranian nationals until it was lifted in 2017.

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The petition by the organisation states: "Due to the permanent failure of Saudi Arabia to manage the two holy mosques and the feelings and permanent politicisation and the absence of strategic development, we call on Islamic countries and governments to take the initiative and the media to form an interim framework that sets the first building blocks for a long-term plan for the process of managing the two holy sites."

It urged the international Muslim community to establish "an Islamic administration that takes upon itself the administration of the Two Holy Places and the Holy Bekaa, whose membership consists of all Muslim countries." The way in which this would work, it claims, would be for the states to "choose a high committee to be elected for a period of 4 years and subject to periodic review by a working association supervised by all member states."

Al Haramain Watch was established in 2018 for the purpose of ensuring that Saudi Arabia maintains good management of the Islamic holy sites by preserving Islamic historic and preventing the politicisation of the religious pilgrimages.

A key figure in this petition is the Malaysian scholar Azmi Abdul Hamid, who claimed that he had obtained an important historical document written personally by the kingdom's founder King Abdulaziz Bin Saud, which reportedly states that all Muslims – both the people of the Hijaz region and the Muslim world – have the right to administer the affairs of the holy mosques.

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Among the other demands made by the petition was the call for the establishment of a sovereign fund managed by Muslim countries, which would consist primarily of the income made from the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

The petition released by Al Haramain Watch comes amid similar calls by other figures in recent years, including  a Turkish politician in 2014 and a Turkish think-tank's call for an "Islamic Vatican".

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