Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca September 30 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has for the ninth year in a row allocated funds to five hundred families of Palestinian "martyrs" - someone viewed to have died on behalf of the Palestinian national cause - to perform the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is a pillar of faith in Islamic doctrine.
Mecca is considered the holiest site in Islam, and visiting it is an obligatory religious duty that must be practiced at least once in a Muslim's lifetime, so long as he or she is physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey.
The Saudi Minister of Islamic affairs, Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh, stated in a press release at the beginning of this year that the move "comes from the king out of Muslim and Arab support for 'Palestine' and its people."
Speaking to The Media Line, Mahmoud Al-Habash, the Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, explained that the families of "martyrs" have been receiving free trips to Mecca, including all travel expenses and the procurement of related documents, since 2009.
"For the first three years, the Saudi Kingdom hosted two thousand members from one thousand families, but then they reduced the number to one thousand spots for five hundred families."
The Palestinians travelling to Saudi Arabia will be chosen equally from the West Bank and Gaza, Al-Habash added, "as Hajj is a religious practice that everyone has a right to." He confirmed that the Saudis are covering all expenses for the Palestinians — "they pay everything starting with the crossing of the bridge [into Jordan], flights, visas and their stay in Mecca."
To this end, Al-Sheikh said that the Palestinian people deserve "admiration and appreciation due to the great sacrifices made for Jerusalem and the holy land of Palestine," which is an "Arab-Islamic land." For his part, King Salman has issued instructions to all agencies involved to make the necessary arrangements for Palestinian pilgrims to be able to perform Hajj smoothly.
Samera Awad, a mother of three who lost her husband Hashem in 2014, expressed to The Media Line how grateful and happy she is for the opportunity to go on this year's pilgrimage.
"I'm going with my brother who will be my Mahram [a male who according to Islamic law cannot marry or engage in sexual relations with a given woman at any time in her life]. I will travel to Jordan first then from there we will fly to Saudi Arabia.
"It's really nice of [the Saudis]," she concluded, "to remember us and make us feel special."
In order for Muslim women to practice the Hajj, they must have a Mahram. This is partly the reason for which Riyadh assigns two spots for each family, thereby ensuring that females who make the trip can be accompanied by a blood relative.
Saudi Arabia will also be extending the same generosity to 1000 families of members of Egypt's security forces who have been killed defending the country. Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Qattan, the Saudi Ambassador to Cairo, said the move evidences "the King's appreciation for the families of 'martyrs' who have sacrificed their lives to defend their homeland."
The issue of Palestinian "martyrs" has been raised by US President Donald Trump, who has called on PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to stop paying salaries to both Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails, as well as to the families of Palestinians who have been killed while clashing with Israeli forces.
Despite this, Mahmoud Al-Habash confirmed to The Media Line that no party has denounced the free trips for the families of "martyrs" to Mecca, "as Muslims have the full right to practice their religion—especially the Hajj."