Iran has slammed Saudi Arabia for poor management of the annual hajj pilgrimage, citing last year’s event that saw hundreds killed. Tehran suggested that Riyadh be replaced as curator, while the Saudis accuse Iran of “politicizing” the sacred tradition.
“Because of Saudi rulers’ oppressive behavior towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj,” Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote in a statement on his official website.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) September 5, 2016
The hajj is a religious pilgrimage to Islam’s most holy sites that every Muslim is obligated to undertake at least once in their lives. In the deadliest incident of its kind on record, some 2,426 people were killed in a stampede in Mina, Mecca, as they were making their hajj in September of last year, but its cause still remains unclear. The tragedy further exacerbated long-standing animosity between Riyadh and Tehran. Tehran claimed that 464 of those killed were Iranian, while blaming the tragedy on Saudi mismanagement. Iran has repeatedly demanded that an independent body take over management of the five-day event, but the Saudi authorities have refused to consider the proposal.
“They murdered them,” Khamenei wrote in an emotionally charged address.
“The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers – instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst,” the leader stated, though he offered no evidence to support his allegations. He also accused the Saudis, who he called “small and puny satans,” of “treason” for failing to provide sufficient security for the hajj, saying they had been too busy catering to the United States to arrange it.
“Saudi rulers […] are disgraced and misguided people. [They] tremble for fear of jeopardizing the interests of the Great Satan, the US,” Khamenei wrote.
In responding to Khamenei’s accusations, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and interior minister, Mohammed bin Nayef, said that Iran was merely trying to “politicize” the hajj, while warning that the agitation could compromise the safety of pilgrims.
“The Iranian authorities don’t want the Iranian pilgrims to come here for reasons concerning the Iranians themselves,” Saudi state news agency SPA quoted the crown prince as saying.
“Seeking to politicize hajj and turn it into rituals against Islam’s teachings [compromises] the safety of hajj,” he stressed.
The crown prince dismissed Khamenei as lacking credibility and objectivity, stressing that the Saudis have never treated Iranian pilgrims any differently than the other pilgrims, while Iranian pilgrims do not always respect the rules of hajj.
“[They use hajj] to violate the teachings of Islam, through shouting slogans and disturbing the security of pilgrims,” he noted.
Bin Nayef stressed that the Saudis consider it their sacred duty to provide all of the pilgrims “with all safety and security.”
After two failed attempts to resolve the safety issue, Iran banned its pilgrims from attending this year’s hajj for the first time in almost 30 years. Nonetheless, there are many Iranians among the over one million pilgrims that have already arrived in the Gulf state for the hajj starting Friday, the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah said, according to Aawsat newspaper.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been gearing up for the event, fearing a repeat of last year’s tragedy. This year, Muslim pilgrims will all have to wear electronic bracelets containing personal and medical information, while additional security cameras have been installed along the hajj route. In addition, Crown Prince bin Nayef has warned that more severe punishments await those who disturb the proceedings.