Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric, the grand mufti, has said the stampede at the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca on Thursday 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.
Authorities have raised the number of deaths to 769 – the deadliest incident to occur during the Hajj in 25 years.
King Salman has ordered a safety review into the disaster, which injured 934 people, new casualty figures suggest.
The pilgrimage, or Hajj, is now into its final day, with no further serious incidents reported.
Analysis: Sebastian Usher, BBC Middle East editor
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.
Why do millions gather in Mecca every year?
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”, Isna news agency reported.
Iran has so far reported the greatest number of deaths among foreign nationals, at least 134, with more than 340 of its citizens still missing.
A former ambassador to Lebanon is among the missing, state TV said.
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 Abraham.
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.
Map showing location of Hajj crush – 24 September 2015
Deaths reported so far by nationality
Iran: at least 134
Morocco: 87 (media reports)
Cameroon: at least 20
Niger: at least 19
Somalia: 8 (media reports)
Other nationalities (numbers not yet known): Benin
By trying to blame African pilgrims for this avoidable man made disaster, Saudi authorities demonstrate that they are incompetent, racist and insensitive; pure and simple.
Looking at the death tally so far, it’s plainly obvious that the easy-to-blame Africans could not have caused the stampede.
Of course Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh has no clue about what has happened. No one can seriously expect him to blame anyone but Allah, a fatalism that absurdly pervades in the Muslim world.
This is indicative of their willingness to abdicate responsibility. Period.
So it’s no surprising to see Saudi trained clerics in the Gambia falling over each other endorsing the Professor and justifying his [mis]rule and decadence as Allah’s ordain.
This is nonsense and bizzare beyond common sense.”
Kemo-Ba , you hit the nail on the head. If not for religious purposes , I think Saudi Arabia should be the last place on earth for black people to visit . They have no respect for black people. Period .
African people must immediately find their own god and religion.
When are we going to stop worshiping white skin God and worship our own? Who said that God is for only white skin?