Muslim women on pilgrimage from Nigeria detained in Saudi Arabia

Hajj

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

More than 1,000 Muslim women from Nigeria on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca have been turned away or detained in Saudi Arabia over allegations they weren’t traveling with husbands or other suitable male guardians, according to Nigerian news reports.

Nigerian media reported Wednesday that 171 women pilgrims were deported from Medina and hundreds more were being held after arriving at a Jidda airport. A Nigerian official told the Associated Press on Thursday that more than 500 women were returning to their country after being refused entry to Saudi Arabia.

Women from Nigeria had reportedly been allowed in the past to make the pilgrimage with Nigerian government officials instead of a husband or male relative. In Saudi Arabia, women are expected to have a male chaperon and are required to get permission from a male guardian to study, travel or work.

Saudi officials reportedly were stricter than usual this year, even stopping women traveling with their husbands, apparently because they had different last names.

Other women may have been turned away out of misunderstanding. One Nigerian official told the News Agency of Nigeria that scores of women from his region were stopped at the airport because their male guardians had been checked and cleared ahead of them.

“When it was the turn of the women to be checked and cleared, the security claimed they were not accompanied by their guardians and were unwilling to listen to any explanation,” Taraba Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board chairman Alhaji Hamman-Adama Tukur told the news agency.

Nigerian lawmakers were outraged by reports of the women being neglected while they were detained.

"We were held in Medina for two days without food. None of us could sleep because it was so cold. Most of us collapsed on the floor, sobbing and pleading after we were told that we would be deported. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears,” said Amina Jalingo, according to the Daily Trust newspaper.

A Nigerian government delegation is being sent to Saudi Arabia and a national pilgrimage commission is halting flights for two days, local news reports said.

The official Saudi Press Agency had no immediate reports early Thursday on the talks with Nigerian officials or their complaints; it reported that more than 175,000 pilgrims had arrived in Medina so far.

[Updated 11:58 a.m. Sept. 28: The Saudi government ministry that handles the pilgrimage said women younger than 45 must be accompanied by a male sponsor, the official news agency reported Friday. The rule is applied to all women who seek an entry visa to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, it said.]

Making the journey at least once in a lifetime is one of the pillars of Islam, leading millions annually to make the lengthy and sometimes expensive trek. Nigerians pay about $4,000 per person to make the pilgrimage.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Nigerian pilgrims get on a bus as they leave the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Nigeria shortly after their arrival from Medina, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday. Saudi Arabia has denied entry to an estimated 1,000 Nigerian woman on a pilgrimage. Credit: Aminu Abubakar / AFP/Getty Images

 
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