Saudi Arabian authorities have held more than 900 Nigerian women on the annual Hajj pilgrimage under a law that prohibits women under 45 to travel without a first-degree male relative. Nigeria’s National Hajj Commission has reported that 908 female pilgrims were held at King Abdulaziz Airport in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
The commission also stated that the pilgrims have been held in poor conditions, and some of them need “urgent medical attention.” According to Article 5 of the Saudi law on applications for a Hajj visa, all women are required to travel for Hajj with a Mahram (a first-degree male relative), and the proof of kinship must be submitted with the application form.
However, women over the age of forty-five may travel without a Mahram with an organized group on the condition that they carry a no objection letter notarized by husband, son or brother, authorizing the pilgrim to travel with the named group, the law stipulates. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Riyadh Abubakar Shehu Bunu filed a formal complaint with the Saudi foreign affairs office, calling on Riyadh to release the Nigerian women.
“They are stopping women particularly between the ages of 25 and 35 without a male relative. Those over 45 are not a concern to the Saudi authorities,” Bunu stated. The Nigerian National Hajj Commission also said that under an agreement between Abuja and Riyadh, Nigerian women could travel to Mecca for Hajj pilgrimage even if they were accompanied by local Hajj committee officials. Saudi authorities even stopped women who were entering the country with their husbands just because their surnames did not match those of their husbands, according to the commission report. “Islam allows wives to bear the names of their parents and not necessarily that of their husbands,” the report said.