Although several deaths have been recorded during the celebration of Hajj in Mecca over time, but this is the worst and most fatal Hajj history ever recorded in 25 years, as about 717 pilgrims were trampled to death, while about 863 were injured in a stampede that broke out during a ritual known as ‘stoning the devil’ at Mina, a large valley about 5km (3 miles) east of Mecca.
This incident which took place yesterday morning is happening barely two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing over hundred Muslims and injuring nearly 200 in the Grand Mosque ahead of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, the focal point of the hajj.
The tragedy was the worst to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims perished in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites near Mecca and the ninth in a string of such incidents since then. Both stampedes occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam’s most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual. Over the last 25 years, such incidents have claimed the lives of more than 3,000 pilgrims.
The latest stampede was reportedly caused by two large groups of pilgrims arriving together around 9:00 am on Thursday at a crossroads on their way to performing the “stoning the devil” ritual along street 204, one of the two main arteries leading through the camp towards Jamarat bridge at Mina. It happened that people were going towards the direction of throwing the stones while others were coming from the opposite direction. Then it became congestive and chaotic making a huge crowd of people to start falling down, one trampling on the other just to breath and scramble to safer places. That was how hundreds were crushed to death. Surprisingly, during and after the stampede the pilgrims continued to flock into Mina to perform the devil stoning ritual.One of the survivors who gave his name as Dr Abdulrahman recounts his experience:
I saw the pilgrims were falling down and getting crushed and heard women and elderly people were screaming, asking for help. I tried very hard to get out, I lost all my clothes, they were torn off but I didn’t care and I managed to get out…”, he told the Associated Press.
Some measures were taken by the Saudi Arabia government to ensure the safety of Hajj pilgrims after the occurrence of a similar incident in 2006, that left 131 pilgrims dead. And since the, nine years now, the ceremony has been casualty-free. However, it was discovered that the place were the last tragedy struck was not covered by the computerised crowd control system that was then installed by a British company, CrowdVision.
Saudi officials said overcrowding was one cause of the disaster, with an estimated two million Muslims from around the world converging on Mecca for this year’s hajj, which began on Tuesday. They also blamed the pilgrims, saying they weren’t keeping to the tight schedule set by authorities to manage the crowds.
“If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided,” Mr Falih told El-Ekhbariya television.
Saudi authorities have spent billions of dollars on improving transport and other infrastructure to try to prevent such incidents, and this year authorities deployed 100,000 security personnel and 25,000 extra health workers, as well as 100,000 air-conditioned tents for temporary accommodation. Following the tragic incident, about 4,000 workers, along with 220 ambulances and other vehicles were sent to Mina to take care of the disaster. The injured have been evacuated to four different hospitals in the Mina region, according to a civil defence spokesman.
Each year not less than 3 million pilgrims pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to go on the religious trip, with people spending between £4,000-5,000 for a typical pilgrimage. Majority of the pilgrims are individuals from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Senegal, among other nationalities. All the same, it appears that rivers of tears may not really be shed by the Muslim faithful as losing one’s life during the Hajj season is considered by many devout Muslims as a straight entry into heaven.
Hajj which is known as the fifth pillar of Islam, is a 5-day festival that is very important to Muslims which every adult is obliged to perform at least once in a lifetime. The pilgrimage occurs during the last month of the Islamic year, called “Dhul-Hijjah” in Mecca, Saudi Arabia – the holiest place in Islam. The event is also marked by the Islamic holiday, Eid al-Adha.
Stoning the devil is actually one of the last rituals of the hajj in which crowds of pilgrims throw seven stones at three pillars called Jamarat, which represent the devil. It is believed to be a re-enactment of when the Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations, according to Muslim traditions.
Another tragedy also struck same day in Yemen, where at least 29 people attending Eid prayers died when a bomb went off inside a crowded mosque in Sanaa.
Here’s a look at some previous deadly hajj-related incidents:
2015: At least 107 people are killed and scores wounded when a crane collapses in bad weather, crashing onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.
2006: More than 360 pilgrims are killed in a stampede at the desert plain of Mina, near Mecca, where pilgrims carry out the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual.
The day before the Hajj began, an eight-story building being used as a hostel near the Grand Mosque in Mecca collapsed, killing at least 73 people.
2004: A crush of pilgrims at Mina killed 244 pilgrims and injured hundreds on the final day of the hajj ceremonies.
2001: A stampede at Mina during the final day of the pilgrimage ceremonies killed 35 pilgrims.
1998: About 180 pilgrims trampled to death in panic after several of them fell off an overpass during the final stoning ritual at Mina.
1997: At least 340 pilgrims were killed in a fire at the tent city of Mina as the blaze was aided by high winds. More than 1,500 were injured.
1994: Some 270 pilgrims are killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual at Mina.
1990: The worst hajj-related tragedy claims the lives of 1,426 pilgrims in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.
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