Long-simmering political and religious tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a head this week in the wake of highly controversial statements delivered by both the countries’ top religious leaders.
Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh claimed Tehran leaders are “not Muslims,” adding Iranians instead are the descendants of “Majuws.”
Majuws or Magi is a term that refers to the followers of Zoroastrianism, which is an ancient pre-Islamic religion that was dominant in Persia (now known as Iran).
"We must understand they are not Muslims, for they are the descendants of Majuws, and their enmity towards Muslims, especially the Sunnis, is very old," Al Sheikh said, according to the AP news agency.
The Saudi cleric’s comments came nearly a day after Iran’s top religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the Saudi government of "murdering" pilgrims caught up in a stampede at last year's Hajj.
"The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers — instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst," Khamenei declared. "They murdered them."
Around 2,411 pilgrims — according to an AP investigation, though the Saudi government never confirmed the number — lost their lives on Sept. 24 when two large groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads on their way to performing a ritual during the annual Muslim holy pilgrimage in the Saudi city of Mecca.
Saudi Arabia’s inefficient response to the tragedy prompted criticism from across the globe, including the Iranian government and Khamenei who threatened Saudi Arabia with "tough and harsh" retaliation.
The situation deteriorated between the two long-term regional rivals a few months later in January, when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr — and in retaliation Iranians ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest.
Consequently, Saudi Arabia cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran, adding to escalating conflict between the two countries.