To be able to perform Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) as a woman, one must do so with a male guardian of some sort. But, it seems as though this may be coming to an end soon.
According to sources who spoke to Arab News, Saudi Arabia may soon allow women pilgrims to perform Hajj without a male guardian as the government studies new visa options. Recent reports have revealed that the country's Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is "conducting studies to issue visit visas for both tourism and Umrah purposes and that this process is expected to grant female pilgrims their right to travel to the kingdom more independently."
Currently, all women are required to have a male guardian (mahram) with them during the pilgrimage with the exception of those over the age of 45 who are traveling with an organized group. But even then, these women need a signed letter of "no objection" from whoever is considered their male guardian. Female pilgrims can also be met by a mahram on arrival to the country.
If approved, the anticipated decision will mark a significant change for women pilgrims.
The planned move is said to be one of several developments being laid out by the ministry amid concerns recently raised by businesses involved in the industry.
The recent news comes months after the kingdom granted Saudi women the right to apply for passports and the ability to travel outside the kingdom without male approval. It seems as though the concept of a "male guardian" is slowing disappearing from previously applied laws, whether that involves local or foreign women.
The kingdom's tourism sector has been reliant on religious pilgrimages
In recent weeks, the country has been slowly opening up to non-religious tourists as well. It has amended several legislations in a bid to attract travelers and has started issuing visas for citizens of 49 countries. Female tourists no longer need to wear abayas when in the kingdom and unmarried foreign couples can now share a hotel room. However, tourists must still adhere to specific "public decency" legislations. These changes are part of Saudi Arabia's plan to boost its tourism sector under Vision 2030, an ambitious blueprint that aims to diversify the kingdom's economy.
Despite Saudi Arabia's efforts to boost its leisure tourism sector, it still rakes the majority of its tourism revenues from religious trips. This means developments in the sector are vital to its survival and growth. One such way the kingdom has been doing that is through digitization.
During this year's Hajj season, the country integrated an e-tracking system for foreign pilgrims — which digitized the process for pilgrims, from visa applications to housing and transportation. The kingdom also digitized the visa process for Umrah applicants this year.