Close to 2 million people from around the world are performing the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, but notably absent this year are Iranian pilgrims.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that Saudi Arabian authorities “murdered” Muslim pilgrims who were injured during last year’s hajj stampede, as Mecca prepares to host the annual event again.
Tensions between the two countries have risen after a crush in last year’s pilgrimage killed at least 2,426 people, including 464 Iranians, according to an unofficial count.
The Saudi Interior Ministry says more than 1.3 million people from 160 different countries have arrived to the kingdom to perform the hajj this year, said CBSNews
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, did not deliver the traditional Hajj sermon for the first time in 35 years because of health complications, reported BBC.
It follows controversy sparked by his remarks that Iranians were “not Muslims”, comments that came after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced Saudi Arabia’s management of the Hajj.
On Friday, thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities to protest Saudi Arabia, chanting prayers against the kingdom’s Sunni rulers after midday prayers.
On Sunday, Thousands of Iranian pilgrims gathered in Iraq’s holy Shia city of Karbala, to observe Arafat Day after being deprived of attending annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, said NRTTV
Last year, some 64,000 Iranians took part in the hajj, but disputes with the Saudi government prompted Tehran to bar its citizens from taking part this year.
According to BBC, The stampede in Mina which had happened last September, is considered to be the worst disaster in Hajj history. It took place as pilgrims were going to the Jamarat Bridge for a stoning ritual .
Saudi Arabia has consistently downplayed the number of casualties. It has announced an investigation but no conclusions have been released