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Get closer to God by praying for Saudi royal family, urges cleric in hajj sermon

Over 1.7 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the start of hajj [YouTube]

Date of publication: 2 September, 2017

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Muslims around the world should "get closer to God" by praying for the Saudi royal family during the Eid al-Adha feast, a senior Saudi cleric has said.

Muslims around the world should "come closer to God" by praying for the Saudi royal family during the Eid al-Adha feast, a senior Saudi cleric has said.

Sheikh Saad al-Shathri, a member of the kingdom's highest religious body and an advisor to the royal court, made the comments on Thursday during the most important sermon of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

"Among those who have done good for Muslims all across the world by serving the Two Holy Mosques and looking after pilgrims: are the rulers of this blessed country the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Sheikh Shathri said.

"Come closer to almighty God by praying for them," he said at the Namira mosque near Mount Arafah, where pilgrims gather for the highlight of the hajj.

"We ask God to provide for King Salman and support him, make him victorious and back his good deeds. May God bless his crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and strengthen his strong grip by making it do good for the whole Islamic nation," the Sheikh added.

Social media users have condemned Shathri's comments as being overtly political and at odds with Islamic principles, which shun intermediaries between God and believers.

King Salman on Wednesday appointed the Sheikh to deliver the sermon on the Day of Arafah, which marks the occasion of one the prophet Muhammad's final public messages to his followers.

The Saudi Press Agency's summary of the sermon failed to mention the calls to pray for the monarch and the newly appointed heir to the throne.

It did, however, quote Sheikh Shathri as urging pilgrims to set aside politics during the hajj and come together with fellow Muslims.

More than 1.7 million Muslims from around the world arrived in Saudi Arabia for the start of hajj this week.

Once in Mecca - the site of Islam's holiest place of worship - they are reminded that the ruling Al Saud family is the only custodian of the site with the large portraits of the king and the country's founder hanging in hotel lobbies across the city.

It is just one of the many ways that Saudi Arabia uses its oversight of the hajj to bolster its standing in the Muslim world - and to spite its foes, from Iran and Syria to Qatar.

For nearly 100 years, the ruling Al Saud family has decided who gets in and out of Mecca, setting quotas for pilgrims from various countries, facilitating visas through Saudi embassies abroad.

This year, Qatar has sent only dozens of its citizens across the border to Saudi Arabia because of the increasingly bitter crisis between the Gulf neighbours.

Qatar's only land border, which it shares with Saudi Arabia, has been closed and travel, diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed over charges that Doha supports Islamist extremists and has too close ties to Riyadh's regional rival Iran.

Doha has strongly denied the accusations.

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