Will film on 2015 hajj disaster further tarnish Iran-Saudi relations?

Sept. 24, 2015, was a tragic day. More than 700 people were killed in a stampede during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The disaster occurred on the first day of Eid al-Adha, when pilgrims perform the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca. In Iran, the event is remembered as the “Mina tragedy,” given that some 500 Iranian pilgrims lost their lives. Now, nearly one year later, an Iranian filmmaker is preparing to unveil “September 24”; probably the first cinematic depiction of the tragedy.

One of the film’s main characters is Mohsen Haji Hassani Kargar, an Iranian “qari” (reciter of the Quran) who was killed in the disaster. The 27-year-old, who was known as Haji Hassani, had won first prize at the 57th International Quran Competition in Malaysia in June 2015 and was performing the hajj with a delegation of Quran reciters. “September 24” revolves mostly around the story of Haji Hassani’s life — and death. It has already stirred controversy, with one Saudi website saying that it could become a “new source of tension in Tehran-Riyadh relations.”

Maryam Ebrahimi, director and producer of the movie, told Al-Monitor, “When Iran’s leader said the Mina tragedy must not be forgotten, I thought the language of art could help do this and keep the memory [of the stampede] alive. At the time, I was busy with another film about a martyr, who had nothing to do with the Mina [tragedy]. So I put that project aside and decided to make this film instead, with my own personal budget. The Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization of Iran as well as other relevant organizations only offered spiritual support. No financial aid was provided.”

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This article was written by Zahra Alipour for Al-Monitor on Aug. 12, 2016. Zahra Alipour is an Iranian journalist based in Paris who focuses on cultural affairs. She has reported for several leading Iranian media outlets.