Saudi Arabia deports more female pilgrims on their way to Mecca


Muslim pilgrims reach to touch the golden doors of the Kaaba as they perform the walk around the Kaaba (Tawaf) at the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca early morning. Nov. 9, 2010. The Kaaba, Islam's holiest site which stands in the centre of Mecca's Grand Mosque, contains the holy Black Stone which is believed to be the only piece remaining from an altar built by Abraham.


Mustafa Ozer

Thousands of Nigerian women have been trying to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey that is an important tradition in the Muslim faith.

But instead, that pilgrimage has been ruined by another tradition: Saudi Arabia's longstanding restrictions against women.

Saudi Arabia expelled over 1,000 Nigerian women Friday because they were traveling without male guardians, the Associated Press reported. The expulsion marks the first time that Saudi Arabia has turned away such a large group of women.

The government agency that oversees the pilgrimage said that the women violated Saudi law by traveling without a male relative. "Women aged under 45 must be accompanied on the journey by a 'mahramu,'" or a male with legal authority, the agency said in a statement to the AFP.

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Saudi Arabia went ahead with the deportations despite protests from the Nigerian government. Some women were deported even though they had traveled with their husbands. One husband decided to leave Saudi Arabia, too, as a form of protest, All Africa reported.  

The deportations have been occurring throughout this past week. Before the Nigerian women were deported, they were detained, and complained of being kept in poor conditions. Bilkisu Nasidi, who traveled from the Nigerian city of Katsina, told the BBC that hundreds of women were detained without their belongings and with nowhere to sleep but the floor. She was part of a group of 512 women that was deported on Thursday.  

A major problem seems to be that many of the female pilgrims have different names from their husbands. Muslim women in Nigeria often do not take their husband's name, according to the BBC.