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Women pilgrims will no longer need male companion for Umrah pilgrimage: Saudi authorities

Women under the age of 45 must be accompanied by a male kin [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 October, 2019

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A decision to abolish male guardianship during Umrah pilgrimage has been authorised by Saudi authorities.
A Saudi law prohibiting women from participating in the Umrah pilgrimage without a male kin will soon be abolished, authorities confirmed this week, amid efforts to open up the ultraconservative kingdom to tourists.

Women over the age of 18 will no longer need a muhrem [male kin] to make the lesser pilgrimage in the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, according to the vice chairman of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah, Abdullah al-Qathi.

The decision has been authorised by authorities, al-Qadhi confirmed, and could be implemented before the next Ramadan season.

Saudi law currently dictates all women under the age of 45 must be accompanied by a male member of her family, including husband, father, brothers of maternal and paternal uncles. Women over the age of 45 must be accompanied by a female companion.

The move comes amid an effort by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to change the ultraconservative kingdom through a sweeping liberalisation drive that has brought new cinemas, mixed-gender concerts and sporting extravaganzas to Saudi Arabia in a bid to diversify the economy away from oil.

Read more: Visiting Saudi Arabia? 19 things that are illegal for tourists

Last month, Saudi Arabia launched a visa programme allowing holidaymakers from 49 countries to visit one of the world's most closed-off countries. For years, the only foreigners allowed into the country were mainly Muslim pilgrims and business people. 

"Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country," tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in a statement.

"Visitors will be surprised... by the treasures we have to share - five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty."

Khateeb said the kingdom will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, allowing them to go without the body-shrouding abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women.

Foreign women, however, will be required to wear "modest clothing", he added, without elaborating.

Despite the kingdom’s efforts, international criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, including the gruesome murder last year of critic Jamal Khashoggi and a crackdown on female activists, could put off foreign visitors, observers say.

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