Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched renewed criticism of Saudi Arabia over how it organises the Hajj after a crush last year killed hundreds of pilgrims, many of whom were Iranians. Khamenei has gone on to suggest that the Muslim countries must deliberate on ending Riyadh’s control of the annual pilgrimage. Saudi Arabia has been the custodian of Islam’s most revered places in Mecca and Medina, and it takes this responsibility rather seriously and stakes its reputation on organising haj. While no Muslim would dare contest the custodianship of the holy sites as it has been this way since the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), one too many haj pilgrims have been disgruntled with the Saudi government’s mistreatment and the misuse of their position of power.

Saudi Arabia accused Iran, its long-standing rival, of seeking to politicise this event, saying that Iran was compromising safety with its actions. But the fact remains that for the first time in 25 years, Iranians will not be able to participate in the Hajj and the Grand Mufti has also offended many Muslims across the world by saying that Iranians are not Muslims. Performing Hajj is one of the most integral rights of being a Muslim, one that must not be taken away from Iranians regardless of the official position of the Iranian state. For the Grand Mufti, an influential scholar respected across the globe, to say that “they (Iranians) are children of Magi and their hostility towards Muslims is an old one”, is truly shocking and will haunt Shia communities living across the region for years to come. While Iran as a sovereign country can make diplomatic errors, Saudi Arabia as the custodian of Kabaa cannot and must not reply in the like.

Official numbers from Riyadh said that 769 pilgrims were killed in the 2015 disaster - the highest haj death toll since a crush in 1990. But the counts of fatalities by countries that repatriated bodies showed different numbers - over 2,000 people or more may have died in the crush, out of which more than 400 of them were Iranians. Many Pakistani families were destroyed in the 2015 stampede as well as over a hundred martyred pilgrims returned home in coffins. The Saudi government has a huge responsibility regarding the safety and wellbeing of the pilgrims no matter their race, country of origin or religious sect. It must fulfil this responsibility to the best of their abilities, politics has no place in the organisation of the largest religious pilgrimage of the world.