Iranian and Saudi Tensions Rise Over the Hajj

By Felipe Bueno, International News Writer

Saudi Arabia and Iran have entered into a verbal joust about the safety of this year’s Hajj with Iranian president Ayatollah Ali Khamene saying the “heartless and murderous” Saudis are guilty of locking up injured pilgrims in containers with the deceased, thereby deliberately killing them, according to the New York Times. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz responded to the remarks by saying, “We must understand they are not Muslims, for they are the descendants of Magi, and their enmity towards Muslims, especially the Sunnis, is very old,” with Magi being a derogatory term for non-religious Iranians.

The Hajj takes place in Saudi Arabia, the ‘guardian kingdom’ of Islam’s holiest sites, and is attended by pilgrims from over 50 different countries. For the past few years, as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have increased, so has the controversy surround the pilgrimage.

In the past year since the previous Hajj, there have been a number of events leading to growing tensions between both states; the most prevalent being a ‘human crash’ that took place during the Hajj, which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,400 people. According to the Guardian, Saudi Arabia has not released its findings of what exactly caused this catastrophe, which has led to a large sense of dissatisfaction from Tehran due to the fact that 400 of the lives lost were Iranian. Iran also blames Saudi Arabia for a crane malfunction that took place ten days before the last Hajj, which resulted in the deaths of over 111 pilgrims, claiming this was orchestrated by the Saudis in order to attack Iran.

However tensions between the two countries run much deeper than just disagreements over the Hajj, as the majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia and majority-Shia Iran support opposing factions of both the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars.

Perhaps the largest development in Iranian-Saudi relations was in January of this year, when the two countries cut diplomatic relations over the execution of an outspoken and prominent Shia cleric by Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom executed 47 ‘terrorists’ including the cleric and a convicted al-Qaeda leader, resulting in the storming of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran by outraged Iranians. Following these conflicts Iran announced that no Iranian citizens will attend the Hajj.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is an event meant to symbolize some of the most important aspects of Islamic life. It is a pillar of Islam that allows Muslims to conceptualize and celebrate the journey once made by the prophet Mohammed. According to a study performed by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Hajj is viewed as a journey that “increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 13th print edition.

Contact Felipe at


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