Saudi Arabia’s top cleric said Iranians are “not Muslims”, after Iran’s supreme leader launched a fresh tirade over the kingdom’s handling of the Hajj pilgrimage, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.
“We must understand these are not Muslims, they are children of Magi and their hostility towards Muslims is an old one. Especially with the people of Sunna,” Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh told Makkah daily, referring to pre-Islamic beliefs in Iran and to the Sunnis who make up the main branch of Islam.
The grand mufti’s comments came a day after Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Muslim world should challenge Saudi management of Islam’s two holiest sites in Makkah and Madina.
The verbal sparring, ahead of the Hajj which this year starts on Saturday, follows months of tension between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and its Shia regional rival Iran.
“Because of Saudi rulers’ oppressive behaviour towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of Hajj,” Khamenei wrote on his website.
He reserved some of his harshest words for Riyadh’s response to last year’s Hajj stampede which killed 2,297 pilgrims, according to a toll compiled from foreign officials.