Iran’s Supreme Leader Questions Saudis’ Fitness to Oversee Islam’s Holy Sites, Pilgrimage

By Patrick Goodenough | September 6, 2016 | 3:58am EDT
Muslim pilgrims circling the cube-like Kaaba inside the Sacred or Grand Mosque in Mecca during the 2014 hajj. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, AP)

( – In a stunning attack against fellow Islamic rulers, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested Monday that the Saudis be deprived of their role of guardians of the religion’s holiest sites.

In a statement Khamenei accused the Saudi leaders of blasphemy and treason and used an insulting term (taghut) that refers to those who severely transgress Islamic tenets, usually translated “idolators.”

Taking his rancor against the kingdom further, Khamenei said the Saudis were a “perfect example” of those referred to in a passage in the Qur’an who claim to follow Allah but cause corruption on earth and are bound for hellfire.

And he took the opportunity to point fingers at America and Israel, saying Saudi Arabia’s “behavior towards the Zionists and the U.S. is a source of disgrace for the world of Islam.”

Next week marks the start of the hajj, when millions of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims from around the world – dubbed “guests of Allah “ – travel to the Mecca, location of Islam’s most revered shrine, the Sacred Mosque, to comply with one of the five pillars of Islam.

A stampede during last year’s pilgrimage cost the lives of some 2,400 pilgrims, with more than 450 Iranians accounting for the largest group among the victims. Iran’s Shi’ite leaders from Khamenei down lashed out at the Sunni kingdom over its handling of the event.

In May, Iranian authorities announced that citizens would not take part in this year’s hajj, complaining that talks with Saudi officials had failed to resolve differences over arrangements for the Iranian visitors in Mecca.

In his statement on the hajj on Monday, Khamenei questioned the Saudi rulers’ suitability to oversee the pilgrimage and the holy sites (Medina, also in the kingdom, is home to the second holiest site in Islam.)

“Because of Saudi rulers’ oppressive behavior towards Allah’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj,” he said.

“Saudi rulers, who have obstructed the path of Allah and Masjid ul-Haram [the Sacred Mosque] this year and who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims’ path to the Beloved’s House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the U.S. and on fulfilling their demands,” the ayatollah declared. “And on this path, they do not shy away from any treason.”

Khamenei reprised some of Iran’s grievances about the way the Saudis dealt with last year’s stampede, then widened his attack onto the kingdom’s foreign policy, accusing it of plunging the world of Islam into civil wars; murdering and maiming innocent people in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere; and extending a hand of friendship to Israel.

He further accused the kingdom of getting help from the U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies to spy on pilgrims during this year’s hajj, thereby making “the divine sanctuary unsafe for everybody.”

“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 said. “They must not let those rulers escape responsibility for the crimes they have caused throughout the world of Islam.”

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Naif in comments on Monday rejected Iran’s criticism of the kingdom’s management of the pilgrimage, but did not respond directly to Khamenei’s taunts.

“There is no credibility in their claims and they know full well that the kingdom offers excellent services to all pilgrims, including Iranians,” bin Naif said after inspecting security arrangements in Mina, a key hajj location near Mecca where last year’s stampede occurred.

The crown prince accused Iran of trying to politicize the pilgrimage by not allowing Iranian pilgrims to take part.

He charged that Iranian officials had made demands that were in violation of hajj regulations, which would have jeopardized the safety of other pilgrims.

Earlier, Saudi officials said Iran had wanted to hold demonstrations while in Mecca.

“Iran demanded the right to organize demonstrations and to have privileges that would cause chaos during the hajj. This is unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jabir said last May, adding that the Iranian regime would be “answerable to Allah” for its attitude.

Between 85 and 90 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are Sunnis, while 10-15 percent are Shi’ites. The schism between the two main sects of Islam dates back to a succession dispute after the death of Mohammed in the seventh century.

Iran is today the world’s leading Shi’ite-majority country, while Saudi Arabia’s control of Mecca and Medina make it the flagbearer of Sunni Islam.

Saudi monarchs have styled themselves “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” for the past three decades, appropriating a title believed to date back to Saladin in the 12th century.

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