RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric, the grand mufti, has said Thursday’s stampede that killed more than 700 people at the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca was beyond human control.
He told the interior minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, that he was not to blame for the tragedy.
Iran and several other countries have criticised Saudi authorities for the way they handled safety issues.
It was the deadliest incident to occur during the pilgrimage in 25 years.
King Salman has ordered a safety review.
The pilgrimage, or Hajj, is now into its final day, with no further serious incidents reported.
As criticism of the Saudis intensifies, so has the Saudi response. The intervention of the country’s top religious leader is no surprise. Nor is the grand mufti’s assertion that fate and destiny are inevitable.
Such fatalism has resonance in the Islamic world, but it won’t still a growing clamour of criticism.
Some of those who’ve been attending Hajj, including survivors of the crush, have been expressing a sense that the Saudis despite all the billions they’ve spent on improving the Hajj infrastructure have not done enough to ensure the safety of the majority of the pilgrims on the ground.
This has been magnified on social media, where the Saudi authorities’ placing of the blame on the pilgrims themselves for not following safety instructions has been seen by some as evidence of a lack of sensitivity towards those who come to the Hajj from poorer countries.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh was visited by the crown prince, who is also deputy prime minister and chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, on Friday evening, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
“You are not responsible for what happened,” the grand mufti said.
“As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable.”
The cleric’s remarks came after Iran’s Supreme National Security Council accused the Saudis of “incompetence” and urged them to “take responsibility” for the deaths.
And on Saturday, Prosecutor General Sayed Ibrahim Raisi said that Iran would seek the trial of the Saudi royal family over its “crimes” in “international courts”, Irna news agency reported.
Iran has so far reported the greatest number of deaths among foreign nationals 131.
The crush occurred on Thursday morning as two million pilgrims were taking part in the Hajj’s last major rite.
The pilgrims throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which stand at the place where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Ibrahim a.s.
With temperatures around 46C, two massive lines of pilgrims converged on each other at right angles at an intersection close to the five-storey Jamarat Bridge in Mina, a large valley about 5km (3 miles) from Mecca.
It is also the second disaster to strike in two weeks, after a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 109 people.