Islamic authorities in Saudi Arabia have responded to an extensive missive by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling the Saudis “murderers” and “puny Satans” in response to a massacre that killed thousands at last year’s hajj. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti dismissed Iran’s ire by arguing that Iranians are “not Muslims.”
Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh described the angry remarks from Iran’s leader as “not surprising.” “We must understand they are not Muslims, for they are the descendants of Majuws [Zoroastrians],” the mufti said in a statement. “Their enmity toward Muslims, especially the Sunnis, is very old.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran are regional rivals boasting two different majority Muslim populations, with Saudi Arabia being home to majority Sunni Muslims and Iran the world’s largest majority-Shiite nation. Saudi Arabia is home to the holiest locations in Islam, the cities of Mecca and Medina, and oversees the hajj, or mandatory pilgrimage, to Mecca every year.
While significantly more diplomatic than the Grand Mufti, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef has also weighed in on Iran’s insults, noting it is lamentable that Iran has banned its citizens from participating in the hajj this year. “The Iranian authorities are the ones who don’t want the Iranian pilgrims to come here for reasons concerning the Iranians themselves,” he said, accusing Iran of politicizing a religious occasion.
Khamenei published an extensive article Tuesday accusing Saudi Arabia of the “murder” of pilgrims in last year’s hajj, where a stampede resulted in the deaths of thousands. The Associated Press’s final death toll was at least 2,177, though the government of Saudi Arabia never increased the number of dead above 769. Saudi Arabia beheaded 28 hajj organizers in response to the tragedy.
Khamenei asserts the stampede was intentional in his new letter. “Some experts maintain that the events were premeditated,” he writes, then becoming such an “expert”: “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. They murdered them.”
“The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarize themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent and materialistic nature,” Khamenei writes, adding that the Saudis are “themselves small and puny satans who tremble for fear of jeopardizing the interests of the Great Satan, the U.S.”
The Saudis maintain that the stampede was an accident, though some have claimed it was begun by Iranian pilgrims who violated the rules of the pilgrimage. Al Arabiya‘s Turki Aldakhil cites a report in Saudi media stating last year that “the stampede that killed hundreds was caused by a group of around 300 Iranian pilgrims who did not follow instructions from hajj authorities.” Even before last year’s stampede, he writes, “Tehran has been involved in many incidents that led to the death of pilgrims. One of the most prominent incidents was on July 31, 1987, when Iranian pilgrims carrying photos of then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and Iranian flags demonstrated during hajj, which led to blocked roads and the murder of pilgrims, citizens and security men.”
Even before last year’s stampede, he writes, “Tehran has been involved in many incidents that led to the death of pilgrims. One of the most prominent incidents was on July 31, 1987, when Iranian pilgrims carrying photos of then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and Iranian flags demonstrated during hajj, which led to blocked roads and the murder of pilgrims, citizens and security men.”
Al Arabiya is itself a Saudi media outlet, so it cannot be taken as an unbiased source. Aldakhil makes this clear in sharing his opinion on why the Ayatollah has published such a state shortly before the hajj: “Its mullahs feel that Saudi Arabia carries religious and spiritual weight, which they hope to attain in the long run, but in the short term they wish to sabotage it… [they] envy Saudi Arabia for its strategic position and religious significance.”