The hostility of Saudi Arabia toward Iran has a long history. King Khalid of Saudi Arabia for example wrote to Saddam Hussein to "crush these stupid Iranians" as Saddam pushed on with the invasion of Iranian territory. It has often been claimed that Iraq recruited non-Iraqi Arabs during the war to balance the far superior number of Iranian forces on the ground.
The history of hostility between Wahhabis and Shiites dates several decades. In 1943, a Saudi religious judge ordered an Iranian pilgrim beheaded for allegedly defiling the Masjid al-Haram (Great Mosque) with excrement supposedly carried into the mosque in his pilgrim's garment. There was also a clash in 1981 in Mecca and Medina between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi police. Khalid compiled a revealing letter of protest to Ruhollah Khomeini, asking that Khomeini urge his followers to show restraint but strongly hinting that the Great Mosque had been defiled by blasphemous Iranian pilgrims. According to Khalid, Iranian pilgrims in the Great Mosque had performed their ritual circumambulations while chanting "God is great, Khomeini is great", and "God is one, Khomeini is one." There was no need for Khalid to elaborate on this charge. It was obvious (as far as Saudi Islam was concerned) that the Iranians' slogans constituted an excessive veneration of their Imam, regarded by Wahhabis as a form of polytheism. All this had aroused the "dissatisfaction and disgust" of other pilgrims, wrote Khalid to Khomeini. In fact, Khalid's letter distorted well-known Iranian revolutionary slogans. Iranian pilgrims had actually chanted "God is great, Khomeini is leader." The Saudis had confused the Persian word for "leader" (rahbar) with the rhyming Arabic for "great" (akbar). The pilgrims' Arabic chant declared that "God is one, Khomeini is leader." Here, the Saudis had confused the Arabic for "one" (wāhid) with the rhyming Arabic for "leader" (qā'id). It was this familiar but disguised charge of Shiite defilement which the Saudis sought to level at Iran's pilgrims. The accusation gained credibility from the formerly widespread Sunni conviction that the Shiites are bound to pollute the Great Mosque.
In 1990s and 2000s Iranian pilgrims have continued their peaceful annual demonstration. They confined their rally to within the confines of their compound in Mecca.
On Friday July 31, 1987, a demonstration by Iranian pilgrims against the "enemies of Islam" (including the U.S. and Israel), escalated to fights between demonstrators and Saudi security forces. The police opened fire against the demonstrators and that led to a stampede of the pilgrims. Saudi authorities reported 402 dead (275 Iranians, 85 Saudis including policemen, and 42 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranians, 145 Saudis and 201 other nationals).
Prior to the demonstration, Khomeini sent a message to the pilgrims and included the customary plea that they avoid clashes, insults and disputes, and warned against those intent on disruption who might embark on spontaneous moves.
Immediately following the demonstrations, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for Muslims to avenge the pilgrims' deaths by overthrowing the Saudi royal family. The Saudi government blamed the riot on the Iranian pilgrims and claimed that the Iranian pilgrim riot had been part of a plot to destabilize their rule.
When news of the riot and the casualties reached Iran the following day, mobs attacked the Kuwaiti and Saudi embassies in Tehran, the two countries that were allied with Iraq in its war against Iran.Template:Ref The following day, over a million Iranians gathered in Tehran calling for the overthrow of the regime in Saudi Arabia.
References & notes
- See the article میراث پان عربیسم in the journal مجله سیاسی-اقتصادی No. 209-210, p.12
- Khomeini’s Messengers in Mecca, political rivalries behind the 1987 bloodshed, by Martin Kramer
- K. McLachlan, Iran and the Continuing Crisis in the Persian Gulf. GeoJournal, Vol.28, Issue 3, Nov. 1992, p.359; also, "400 Die as Iranian Marchers Battle Saudi Police in Mecca; Embassies Smashed in Tehran," New York Times, 8/2/87
- Template:Note "Iranian Official Urge 'Uprooting' of Saudi Royalty", The New York Times, August 3, 1987
- Template:Note "Gulf Tensions Rise", The New York Times, August 2, 1987