New Biometric Visa Requirements for Umrah Cause Tensions

Saudi Arabian officials have instituted a biometric screening process for Muslims embarking on the Umrah pilgrimage, according to an Arab News article by Irfan Mohammed. The new process has already proven controversial with tour operators in the countries in which it has been introduced, namely Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan.

The Umrah is, of course, a sacred Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and therefore of great importance to Muslims around the world, and perhaps particularly in the these neighboring states. Saudi Arabian officials have instituted the biometric visas for Umrah applicants as a means to increase security, but the costs and difficulties involved in getting the visas have caused a great deal of consternation, according to the article. The Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents has temporarily suspended its Umrah visas entirely, in protest against the new measures.

While some governments are embracing biometric security wholeheartedly – as is the case in India, for example – certain programs are running up against civilian protest, often as a matter of civil rights. Beyond the Muslim right to pilgrimage in this case, we’ve also seen a substantial degree of consternation in Australia over a government biometric security program. In any case, the popularity of this technology for security screening does not seem likely to diminish, and we can expect to see more of these tensions and negotiations in the future.

November 24, 2014 – by Alex Perala