Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said in a public statement that Iran’s leaders were not Muslims. The comment drew a lot of rebuke from Tehran as the haj pilgrimage issue escalated.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had earlier questioned the management of Mecca and Medina by the Saudi’s. This comes after last year over 2200 people had died in a stampede, the highest since 1990. “The Saudis’ failure and incompetence in this incident proves once again that this cursed, evil family does not deserve to be in charge and manage the holy sites,” the Iranian leader had said, while meeting the families of victims.
Responding to Khamenei’s comments, the Saudi Grand Mufti said, “We have to understand that they are not Muslims … Their main enemies are the followers of Sunnah (Sunnis).” He further went on to describe the Iranian leaders as sons of ‘magus’, a reference to Zoroastrianism, the dominant belief of Persia before the Muslim Arab invasion of the region that is now Iran 13 centuries ago.
The comments drew sharp responses from many Iranian quarters, especially its Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said there was evidence of bigotry among Saudi leaders.
“Indeed; no resemblance between Islam of Iranians & most Muslims & bigoted extremism that Wahhabi top cleric & Saudi terror masters preach,” Zarif wrote on his Twitter account.
The verbal sparring follows months of tension between Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran. For the first time in almost three decades, Iranians will not participate in this year’s haj after talks on logistics and security fell apart.