Top Saudi cleric 'to skip annual hajj sermon for health reasons'

Top Saudi cleric 'to skip annual hajj sermon' for health reasons

Mecca (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - For the first time in 35 years Saudi Arabia's top cleric will not give a traditional hajj sermon to pilgrims from around the world, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh has annually addressed the faithful from the Namira mosque in Mount Arafat for the peak of hajj, which this year falls on Sunday.

Okaz newspaper, citing anonymous sources, said Sheikh, "will step down from delivering the sermon on the day of Arafat, due to health reasons."

He was appointed Grand Mufti in 1999 after the death of his predecessor Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Baz.

But Okaz said Sheikh had for about two decades prior to that given the annual address to the hajj throng at the site where Prophet Mohammed is said to have delivered his final sermon.

Okaz said the mufti spent about two months preparing for each address.

The grey-bearded Sheikh is a descendant of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the 18th-century fundamentalist preacher who co-founded the Saudi state.

In previous Arafat sermons, Sheikh has attacked jihadist extremists and Yemeni rebels who Saudi Arabia accuses of receiving weapons from Iran.

In a report on Tuesday in the Makkah daily newspaper, Sheikh said Iranians are "not Muslims", after the supreme leader of the Shiite country launched a fresh tirade over the kingdom's handling of the hajj pilgrimage.

The hajj began on Saturday with about 1.5 million pilgrims, most of them from abroad.

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