An Iranian official says Saudi Arabia has deliberately barred Iranians from making the Hajj pilgrimage and refused to discuss ways to prevent the reoccurrence of a deadly crush during last year’s Hajj rituals in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca.
It was "unacceptable" to deprive the faithful Iranian people of the chance to perform the Hajj rituals, especially given the 15-20 year waiting list, Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi said in an interview with AFP on Friday.
The Saudis "believe they are the owners -- that Mecca and Medina are their properties," he said, adding, "No, they are the properties of Islam."
The tragic Mina incident took place when two large masses of pilgrims converged at a crossroads during the symbolic ceremony of the stoning of Satan in Jamarat.
More than 2,400 people, including at least 460 Iranian pilgrims, lost their lives in a stampede in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015. Iran had the highest confirmed death toll among foreign nationalities in the Mina stampede. Saudi Arabia claims that nearly 770 people were killed in the incident.
Iran has cancelled the participation of tens of thousands of its pilgrims in this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, which will start on Saturday, due to Saudi Arabia’s creation of obstacles in the way of Iranians seeking to perform the rituals.
"How are you going to invite 1.5 million pilgrims and not even allow yourself to think about the security measures?" Ohadi said.
"Seven thousand people were martyred, were killed, from 39 countries. Why Saudi Arabia was not logical to invite delegates of these 39 countries who had the casualties during the Hajj of last year to sit down one time and think? What measures we can take to avoid any source of problems like this to be repeated again?”
He noted that during this year’s negotiations with Saudi officials, they fell back on verses of the holy Quran saying that that anyone who enters Saudi Arabia has "full security."
He noted that the last straw in the Hajj talks was a call by Saudis that Iranian pilgrims "cannot have any contact with any Muslim from any other country."
This is while the Quranic verses have emphasized the importance of mingling with Muslims from around the world during the pilgrimage, he added.
Ohadi said his Saudi counterpart Mohammed Salih Bentin has expressed concern that Shia Muslims from Iran would seek to “convert” Sunnis from other countries.
"I said, minister, this is really funny. We have eight million Sunni people in Iran, the young generation at universities,” the Iranian official added.
“If you are not ready to accept the Iranians, please very frankly and transparently say that you are not going to allow Iranians. Why? Because you are afraid that they will expose what happened last year," the Iranian official said.
Ohadi said on August 27 the Islamic Republic would spare no effort to restore the rights of the victims of the deadly crush in Mina.