Smriti Irani leads first non-Muslim delegation to visit Islam's historic sites in Medina

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 09-01-2024
Minister for Child and women development and Minority affairs Smriti Irani leading the delegation during her visit to Medina
Minister for Child and women development and Minority affairs Smriti Irani leading the delegation during her visit to Medina


New Delhi

The winds of change in the once-closed Saudi Arabia were felt by the Indians at the highest level during the two-day visit of an official delegation led by Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister for Child and Women Development and Minority Affairs, who wore her normal Indian attire while visiting various historic places in the city of Madina where the entry of non-Muslims was banned or at least discouraged till recently.

The Irani-led delegation thus is the first group of non-Muslims to enter the city and visit historic places of Islam. The Saudi Authorities granted special permission for the visit on Irani’s request.

V Muraleedharan, minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs was also in the delegation which has gone to finalise the arrangements and quota of pilgrims from India for the annual Haj Pilgrimage.

Interestingly, Besides Irani, another woman in the delegation was Nirupama Kotru, a Kashmiri Pandit IRS officer posted as Joint Secretary, Ministry of Minority Affairs.

As the two women in the delegation moved around in Sari and Salvar-kameez, one was reminded of the umpteen controversies the visit of women delegates who refused to cover their heads while on official visits to the Kingdom evoked in the past.

However, the compulsory covering of heads in public is not longer in vogue as the law was changed in 2019.

Smriti Irani posted a collage of images of her visit to Madina on X and wrote:

“Undertook a historic journey to Madinah today, one of Islam's holiest cities included a visit to the periphery of the revered Prophet's Mosque, Al Masjid Al Nabwi, the mountain of Uhud, and periphery of the Quba Mosque – the first Mosque of Islam. The significance of the visit to these sites courtesy Saudi officials, intertwined with early Islamic history, underscores the depth of our cultural and spiritual engagement.”

Earlier the Indians explored the cultural richness of Al-Balad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserving the vibrant cultural heritage of Jeddah. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) posted the video of their visit on X:

Irani signed the Bilateral Haj Agreement 2024 with Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah, Minister of Hajj and Umrah, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As per the agreement, India has been granted a quota of 1,75,025 pilgrims for this year’s haj pilgrimage.

This exceptional gesture by the Saudi side, welcoming a non-Muslim delegation to Madinah, underscores the strength of the bilateral relations between India and Saudi Arabia. As both nations continue to forge stronger ties, this historic visit is poised to contribute significantly to mutual understanding and cooperation in the realm of religious and cultural exchanges.

The delegation comprised senior officials from the Ministries of Minority Affairs and External Affairs. It was aimed at strengthening the bilateral relations and gaining valuable insights into the arrangements required for the upcoming Haj pilgrimage.

The significance of this visit lies in its potential to offer firsthand insight into the intricate arrangements required to ensure the comfort and well-being of Indian pilgrims during Haj 2024. The Indian government reaffirms its deep commitment to providing the necessary facilities and services to the lakhs of Indian Muslims partaking in the Haj pilgrimage, thereby ensuring a comfortable and spiritually fulfilling experience.

Irani also held enriching discussions with the Indian Diaspora, comprising dedicated Haj volunteers and community members.

She also discussed with the Saudi and Indian business professionals, emphasizing the crucial role of economic ties in fostering strong bilateral relations. In addition to these engagements.

Madinah, also known as Medina, stands as one of the holiest cities in Islam and holds profound religious significance for Muslims worldwide. Nestled in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, Madinah is renowned as the city to which the Prophet Muhammad migrated, marking the inception of the Islamic calendar.

On her experience of visiting Saudi Arabia, Nirupama Kotru told Awaz-the Voice, “As a woman, I felt rather empowered to be in Medina. It was a rare and historic occasion where Smriti Irani Ma'am and I were roaming around with heads uncovered, all over Medina. Saudi Government gave special permission for our delegation to visit all three landmarks of Medina on Madam’s (Smriti Irani) request”

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The delegation visited Masjid Nabawi (where the Prophet rests), Uhud mountain, and Masjid Quba, the first mosque in the world established by Prophet Muhammad. However, Kotru clarified that in Quba the delegation did not enter the mosque but went up to the periphery. The entry of non-Muslims is strictly banned in this mosque.

She said they also met many Indian pilgrims in Quba.