Union Minister Smriti Irani’s recent visit to Madinah, the pilgrimage site of Islam, has stirred controversy and prompted hate-filled reactions from certain sections. The non-Muslim delegation accompanying her, which included Kashmiri Hindu IRS Officer Nirupama Kotru, became the center of attention as Irani was seen visiting the holy city wearing a saree without a headgear.
Irani’s visit included a review of preparations for Haj, meetings with senior Saudi Arabian leaders, and participation in the Umrah Conference in Jeddah. She visited significant religious sites such as the periphery of the Prophet’s Mosque, Al Masjid Al Nabwi, the mountain of Uhud, and the periphery of the Quba Mosque – the first Mosque of Islam.
While the visit aimed to showcase the close cultural ties and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and India, it has irked some Muslim communities in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Pakistan. Pakistani news portal ‘The News’ questioned Irani’s choice of outfit and referred to the delegation not as an Indian delegation but as a Hindu delegation.
Madkhali idiots, and Saudi nationalists, who are even bigger idiots saying it’s allowed for a non-Muslim delegation to come to Madinah…Tulsi from Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi wasn’t there to sell samosas.
— ♟️Uzair♦️عزیر♟️ (@TheSyedHaq) January 10, 2024
Criticism also arose over the attire of Minister V Muraleedharan, who wore a dhoti and saffron Kurta during the visit, and Irani, who donned a bindi, a Hindu symbol, on her forehead.
On social media platform ‘X’ (formerly Twitter), Islamist netizens expressed their displeasure, with one user abusing the Madkhali sect and Saudis, labeling them “idiots” for allowing non-Muslims into Madinah. The user’s post included a screenshot of Smriti Irani’s visit announcement, with derogatory comments aimed at the delegation.
Another user, identifying with the Hanafi sect, questioned Irani’s presence in Madinah, specifically at Masjid al Nabawi, and questioned why non-Muslims were allowed in Haram Shareef.
In response to these hateful posts, Saudis themselves defended the visit. One Saudi Arabian Muslim dismissed the opinions of those criticising Irani, asserting, “Our land, our country, our rules. Just because your ancestors converted to Islam and gave you an Arabic name doesn’t mean you have an opinion in it. You are irrelevant, and we are not the same.”
Further countering the criticism, the user emphasised that Madinah is not the holy land of all Muslims and that the honour of visiting the holy lands is subject to the country’s rules and conditions.
Not only Saudis but Iranians also criticised Pakistanis who insulted Zoroastrianism. A Pakistani user’s attempt to disparage Neo-Zoroastrianism was met with an Iranian response dismissing the Pakistani’s opinion as irrelevant.
On X, Islamists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh targeted the Union Minister, using the term “Kafir Khatoon,” meaning infidel lady. Another Islamist objected to the use of the word ‘khatoon’ as it was deemed respectable and suggested using ‘kafir aurat’ instead.
The incident has underscored the complex intersections of religion, politics, and cultural differences, leading to a divisive online discourse surrounding the Union Minister’s visit to Madinah.