By Sa’ad Abdul Majid, IOL Correspondent
ANKARA, January 14 (IslamOnline.net) – Hundreds of Azeri Muslims took to the streets in protest of losing the
chance to perform hajj, with the highest Muslim body and travel agencies in the country exchanging the blame over the fiasco.
Azerbaijan's travel agencies
held the Baku-based Religious Board of Muslims of the Caucasus accountable for the delay of giving
hajj visas for hundreds of Azeri Muslims.
The Muslim body, for its part, said it is the only body responsible for the hajj affairs and travel agencies should
have nothing to do with the spiritual journey.
Hundreds of Azeri Muslims had demonstrated Tuesday, January 11, in front of the Saudi embassy in the capital Baku,
to protest not receiving their hajj visas, according to Azeri press reports.
The Saudi ambassador to Azerbaijan Ali Hassan Jaafar, however, said the embassy is not responsible for delaying the
Hajj visas were given to the Religious Board of Muslims of theCaucasus under Sheikh Al-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade,
the official body responsible for organizing Azeri pilgrims' affairs, a statement of the Saudi embassy said.
Travel agencies and any other bodies are not allowed to receive hajj visas without a permission from the religious
board, it added.
The Saudi embassy also refused to set a date for a meeting with the Azeri travel agents to discuss the hajj visas delay.
Azerbaijanis a secular state where Muslims make up nearly 93.4 percent
of the 8 million population.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and an
essential part of Muslims’ faith and practice on the condition of physical and financial ability.
It consists of several ceremonies, meant to symbolize
the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
In response, the Azeri travel agencies also accused the Saudi embassy of being responsible for delaying the hajj visas
for Azeri pilgrims.
A travel agency owner also threatened to file a lawsuit against the Saudi embassy in case it refused to grant hajj
visas for those who applied for his travel agency.
The Religious Boar of Muslims of theCaucasus , for its part, dismissed the travel agencies' allegations of being responsible
for the hajj visas delay.
“The travel agencies are responsible for the hajj visas delay because they were late to apply in the right time
for receiving the visas,” the religious board deputy chairman said, according to an Azeri daily.
He, however, stressed that the religious board is the only body responsible for performing the hajj as well as other
religious issues in the country and the travel agencies are not authorized to interfere in the hajj affairs.
The high numbers of Azeri Muslims applying for travel agencies, not the religious board, to pick up their hajj tickets,
are attributed to low costs of the agencies' tickets.
Azeri pilgrims pay 900-1,000 US dollars per person to travel agencies to reserve a hajj ticket while the cost jumps
to around 1600-2000 US dollars to pick up the ticket from the religious board.
After long decades under the Soviet communist rule, Azerbaijan won independence in 1991.
The country joined the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) at the end of 1990s.
Under the Soviet rule, mosques were closed down and Muslims were banned from performing prayers in public places or
traveling to Saudi Arabia to
perform the fifth pillar of Islam.