Cairo, Brussels and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Muslim leaders around the world have strongly rejected what they called “politicization” of last week’s Hajj tragedy by Iran, which blamed Saudi Arabia—the organizer of the annual Muslim pilgrimage—for the incident that killed and injured hundreds of people of different nationalities.
In the worst such incident to hit the Hajj season in 25 years, at least 769 people were killed and 863 injured after two large groups of pilgrims converged at a crossroads in Mina, a few miles east of the Muslim holy city of Mecca, on Thursday.
Tehran has accused Saudi Arabia of negligence concerning the implementation of appropriate safety measures, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called on the Kingdom to “take responsibility” for the tragedy—even though Riyadh announced earlier that investigations were still underway.
Al-Azhar University, the world’s leading Sunni Muslim seat of learning, strongly denounced on Monday Iran’s “rash accusations” of negligence on the part of Riyadh, arguing that jumping to conclusions before the findings of investigations were even released is completely “unacceptable” and aims only to distort reality.
“Claims of negligence are unacceptable and contradict the reality as seen by millions of people during the Hajj season every year,” Abbas Shuman, Al-Azhar deputy head, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
A number of Al-Azhar ulama (scholars) who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat said the Iranian accusations fall into the category of “predicting the future” given that the Saudi organizers are yet to announce the results of their investigations. They also warned that Tehran’s insistence on blaming Riyadh was an obvious attempt to give the accident a political character.
Shuman said Al-Azhar condemns Iran’s “rash” accusations toward Saudi Arabia which “under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Salman Bin Abdulaziz does its best to make the Hajj season successful each year.”
The Hajj is the largest gathering in the world with at least 2.5 million pilgrims estimated to have entered Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage this year.
Al-Azhar’s deputy head called on people not to jump to conclusions before investigations are complete.
“Al-Azhar stands beside Saudi Arabia in its recent ordeal and calls on all Muslims not to listen to the subversive voices that wait for such opportunities in order to exploit some incidents against the interests of the Ummah,” he said.
Meanwhile, a number of Muslim community leaders in Belgium criticized Iran for using the Mina stampede to “score political points,” calling Tehran’s exploitation of the tragedy “un-Islamic.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Noureddin Al-Taweel, a member of the the Executive Body of Muslims in Belgium, called what he said was Iran’s politicization of the stampede “completely unacceptable . . . [and aims to] create sedition [among Muslims].”
Speaking via telephone from Brussels on Monday, hours after arriving from Saudi Arabia where he performed the Hajj, Taweel praised Saudi authorities and security personnel for their “distinctive efforts in organizing the Hajj.”
Other Muslim leaders in Europe slammed what they described as Iran’s annual attempts to promote its revolution during the Hajj season among pilgrims from across the world, accusing Tehran of seeking to convert the annual religious gathering into a political arena to score points against opponents.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Hafez Rabbani, president of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Britain, said: “Tehran has no right to attack Saudi Arabia and engage in politicization of the Hajj.”
Rabbani recounted how in 1986 Iranian pilgrims organized a protest two days before the start of the Hajj season, creating chaos among the other pilgrims.
At the time, Saudi police exercised restraint and banned other pilgrims from clashing with the Iranian protesters who attacked security personnel, according to Rabbani, who was present in Mecca in that year.
Abdullah Mustafa contributed additional reporting from Brussels