Saudi newspapers reported Sept. 15 that Shiites are expected to replace their pilgrimage to Mecca with religious visits to Iraq’s Karbala instead. According Al-Riyadh newspaper, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa allowing “going on pilgrimage to Karbala and other holy shrines in Iraq instead of Mecca this year.”
The decision came following Khamenei's scathing comments against the Saudi royal family Sept. 7, addressing it as “a damned malicious tree” and urging the formation of a fact-finding committee to probe last year's hajj stampede in which more than 460 Iranians were killed. Khamenei also denounced what he called the kingdom’s poor management of holy places. Last year, Iran and some other Islamic countries called for withdrawing management of the hajj from Saudi Arabia in favor of a joint Islamic management of the pilgrimage affairs.