Iran and Saudi Arabia have for long been enemies.This enmity is a wider spillover of the Shia-Sunni conflict that has bedeviled the Muslim world. The Iranians have claimed that the holy shrine at Mecca is mismanaged and have asked for the removal of the Saudi King as the custodian of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina. There is no doubt that an element of mismanagement exists as hundreds of pilgrims have died in stampedes at Mecca over the years. Last year many Iranians were killed in a stampede. Mecca and the Haj remain a pillar for both Shia and Sunni Muslim sects.

Visiting Karbala

This year negotiations between the two adversariesSaudi Arabia and Iran broke down on the issue of security for the Iranian pilgrims.

This has resulted in the Iranian government advising its citizens to visit and pray at the holy shrine at Karbala in Iraq in lieu of the visit to Mecca.

The shrine at Karbala is considered the holiest of Shia shrines and dedicated to Imam Hussain. This is the site where Hussain ibn Ali was martyred during the Battle of Karbala in 680. Many clerics consider visiting the Karbala shrine as a substitute for those who cannot visit Mecca for any reason and are equally rewarded. This year over one million Iranians has visited the Karbala shrine and performed Arafa.

The Karbala shrine is located 108 km south of Baghdad and is relatively free from the violence that has so bedeviled Iraq. The Shrine has been targeted by Sunni terror group like the ISIS earlier.

Ritual at Karbala

Cleric Haider al Ghurabi has stated that the Arafa ritual is nothing new as it is part of Shi'iterituals dating back centuries. Though visiting the Kaaba for Haj is supreme, those who cannot perform Haj visit the Karbala shrine. As per the archangel Gabriel, the Karbala is the most blessed and most sacred land on earth and it is one of the valleys of Paradise.

The Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict is a religious conflict and has led to Iran asking its citizens not to visit Mecca. It has asked them to pay obeisance at Karbala. Saudi Arabia remains a US ally even as Iran considers the USA as an enemy.

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