RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti said in his remarks that Iranians are “not Muslims”, after Iran’s supreme leader launched a fresh tirade over the kingdom’s handling of the hajj pilgrimage.
“We must understand these are not Muslims. Their enmity toward Muslims is old and their main enemies are the followers of Sunnah (Sunnis),” 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.
He further said Iranian leaders were “followers of magus”, a term that refers to Zoroastrianism, the dominant belief in Persia until the Muslim Arab invasion of today’s Iran thirteen centuries ago.
His remarks came a day after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Muslim world should think about ending Saudi control of the annual pilgrimage.
Al-Sheikh’s remarks drew a swift retort from Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who criticised Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.
“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, ahead of the annual hajj, which this year starts on Saturday, follows months of tension between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and its Shia regional rival Iran.
Earlier, Iran had ‘prohibited’ its citizens to perform Hajj this year, after the talks on safety and logistical issues with Saudi Arabia failed last month. It would be the first time in almost three decades when Iranians will not perform the annual pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest places.