The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday mounted a veiled attack on a Muslim summit in Malaysia shunned by Saudi Arabia, saying such gatherings would weaken Islam.
Leaders of Muslim nations, including Saudi rivals Iran, Turkey and Qatar, will attend the summit this week in Kuala Lumpur, which analysts say is aimed at rivalling the OIC, a 57-member pan-Islamic body headquartered in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dismissed those concerns in a phone call Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, insisting the summit was not intended to create a new bloc.
But in thinly veiled criticism of the four-day summit starting on Wednesday, OIC Secretary General Yousef al-Othaimeen said such gatherings would divide Muslims.
"It is not in the interest of an Islamic nation to hold summits and meetings outside the framework of the (OIC), especially at this time when the world is witnessing multiple conflicts," Othaimeen told Sky News Arabia, without directly naming Malaysia.
He added that "any weakening of the OIC platform is a weakening of Islam and Muslims."
Malaysian officials say King Salman was invited to the Kuala Lumpur meeting but was not attending.
In his call with Mahathir, the king insisted that issues pertaining to the Muslim world should be channelled through the OIC "in order to achieve unity", the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
In a sign that Riyadh was unhappy about the event, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan cancelled his attendance after a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, reportedly to assuage his ally's concerns.
With the president of the kingdom's arch-rival Iran and the emir of Qatar -- under a two-year Riyadh-led blockade -- in attendance, there has been speculation the forum could be used to counter the kingdom's influence.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose relations with Riyadh worsened following last year's murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, is also set to attend.
In a commentary for the Middle East Institute think-tank, analysts Giorgio Cafiero and Khalid al-Jaber said some Muslim-majority countries were uncomfortable with Saudi Arabia due to the meteoric rise of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Kuala Lumpur summit could "serve as an alternative to the... OIC, which is under Saudi Arabia's de facto leadership", they said.