King Salman says Haj should not be politicised

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was speaking after heightened tensions between Riyadh and Tehran in the build up to the pilgrimage.
Saudi King Salman looks at temporary accommodation for visiting pilgrims in Mina, near Mecca, on September 12, 2016. Muslim pilgrims reached Mina on September 12 for the ritual stoning of the devil, the last major rite of the Haj.  AFP / Saudi Royal Palace
Saudi King Salman looks at temporary accommodation for visiting pilgrims in Mina, near Mecca, on September 12, 2016. Muslim pilgrims reached Mina on September 12 for the ritual stoning of the devil, the last major rite of the Haj. AFP / Saudi Royal Palace

Mecca // Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said on Tuesday the Haj should not be used to achieve sectarian or political aims.

The king was speaking after heightened tensions between Riyadh and Tehran in the build up to the pilgrimage.

For the first time in nearly three decades, Iran’s 64,000 pilgrims are not attending the Haj in Saudi Arabia after the two regional rivals failed to agree on security and logistics.

Among its concerns, Riyadh said Tehran had demanded the right to organise demonstrations.

“The kingdom categorically rejects that the Haj serves any political purpose,” Salman, 80, said in a brief address to international VIPs attending the pilgrimage.

Tehran had accused Riyadh of “blocking the path leading to Allah.”

Among the contentious issues was security after last year’s Haj stampede which, according to foreign officials, killed roughly 2,300 people.

Iran reported the largest number of victims, at 464.

Just days before this year’s Haj, which began on Saturday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei questioned Saudi Arabia’s right to manage Islam’s holiest sites.

His claims led to mutual accusations throughout last week.

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh retaliated by telling a newspaper that Iranians “are not Muslims”.

The GCC, of which Saudi Arabia is the most powerful member, accused Iran of “a desperate attempt to politicise” the Haj and said Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks were offensive.

More than 1.8 million faithful from around the world have been attending the annual pilgrimage which officially ends on Thursday.

“Serving the guests of God is an honour for us,” King Salman told the VIP delegates.

Saudi Arabia had said Iranians were still welcome at the Haj if they came from another country. The Haj ministry’s spokesman said “a number” who held other passports were in attendance.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s emir has urged Arab Gulf countries and Iran to settle their disputes through “dialogue”, in a telephone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Tthe official Qatar News Agency said Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani telephoned Mr Rouhani on the occasion of Eid Al Adha.

“The emir stressed that Gulf-Iran relations should be based on good neighbourly relations and mutual respect,” reported QNA.

“Any Gulf-Iran disputes should be settled through negotiations and dialogue,” the emir was quoted as saying.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: September 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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