Discretion advised, graphic content ahead.
This article is not an attempt to defend the Saudi authorities.
Hajj – when millions of Muslims flock to Makkah, to find the temple of God within, to wash away their sins and realize their true purpose. Hajj, is not just a religious ritual, it is a journey towards self realization. This year the Muslims all across the globe are holding their hearts in pain after the series of unfortunate events which have occurred before and during the hajj.
The migrant crisis in Europe had already sent a wave of pain and uneasiness in the Muslim community when the fatal crane accident on 12th September resulted in the martyrdom of over 100 pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque in Makkah. A few days later a fire broke out in a hotel just outside the Grand Mosque, luckily this time no one was harmed. On 24th September 2015 however, a tragedy occurred which created a wave of confusion, pain and anger amongst the Muslims. As the pilgrims were on their way to carry out the ritual of “Rami” or “Stoning the devil”, a stampede happened near the exit of the campsite in Mina which resulted in at least 769 deaths.
The details of the Mina stampede are still not clear and the death toll is tentative. According to initial reports 2 groups of pilgrims “collided” against each other. One group was said to be leaving for Rami whereas the other group was returning after completing the ritual. If this information is true then it raises a serious question mark as to why both groups were set on a collision course? The routes for the groups entering and leaving “Jamarat” are separate to avoid exactly this kind of scenario.
There are other theories circulating everywhere, since we have no way to authenticate these theories, we won`t be discussing them. These rumors seem to be coming up from the extremities of the sectarian spectrum which is why we have to take them with a pinch of salt as the Middle East has already lost around a million people due to the proxy wars being fought on sectarian and political grounds.
The official statement given by the Saudi authorities was perhaps ill worded as it seemed to shift the blame upon the pilgrims who failed to understand the instructions. Why was the statement ill worded? Because the Saudi ground officials who are responsible for crowd control are much more experienced than this. If they as much as sense a possible congestion in any area, their job is to immediately spring into action to prevent anything. If the Saudi authorities believed that the pilgrims had failed to understand the instructions, then the crowd control should have acted and taken control of the situation. However this didn`t happen. So are we to conclude that the Saudi ground officials failed to fulfill their duty? or is there another side of this picture?
Whatever the case maybe, the purpose for writing this article is not to become a private detective to solve this case whilst sitting behind the computer screen. The real aim for this write up is to make the readers understand that in this day and age of technology, when everyone has access to social media, one has to be extremely cautious before posting their views and sentiments for the world to read. An incident may hurt you, it may pain you, it may anger you but you have to rationalize your thinking before posting anything online. Why? Because you are not sitting in your living room with all due respect. Your opinions are not limited to just your friends and family members. When you post something online, the “world” reads it and gets an impression of your mindset.
Instead of being reactive, be proactive. Instead of being critical, be empathic. Gauge the situation and then voice your opinions. Like the old saying goes, if you have nothing good to say then remain quiet.
The crane accident and then the Mina stampede events got millions of hits across the globe. People from all faiths and nationalities expressed their condolences and offered their respects, at the same time some people took this opportunity to bash Islam and Muslims, some even took time to build up elaborate yet flawed plots to blow everything out of proportion. Like Mr. Tariq Fatah here, who is a well known tweep, has a few books to his credit and is known for stirring up controversies on a regular basis. Mr. Fatah sent out a tweet where he attached some pictures to prove that Saudi authorities used bulldozers to sweep up the bodies of dead pilgrims like garbage.
This is a really shocking tweet. Why? Because one doesn`t expect a journalist with such a broad exposure to international media to take support of clear lies just to promote a “hidden agenda”. Anyone who has been to Mina or seen the pictures or hajj transmission in the last few years will know that the pictures attached by Mr.Fatah are at least if not more 10 years old. The obelisk appearing in the 2 pictures, is no longer there. Due to the expansion of the “Jamarat” complex the Saudi`s have since then expanded the obelisk pillars and now they look more like 3 big walls.
The picture below is of the old Jamarat or pillars, before the expansion. This usually was the choke point of the stampedes which occurred prior to 2006.
The expansion of the pillars was carried out in 3 phases. Initially the obelisk pillars were widened to create greater surface area which prevented congestion around the 3 pillars. The picture below shows Jamarat or the pillars after the first phase of expansion.
However, this expansion wasn`t enough. As each year the number of pilgrims allowed for Hajj kept increasing, the congestion around the pillars increased and so the third phase of expansion was carried out. A 4 floor complex was constructed around the pillars with separate route for entry and exit to prevent any kind of congestion.
The pilgrims now have 4 floors to carry out the ritual of “Rami” or “Stoning the devil”. This clearly proves that Mr.Fatah was either totally unaware about the development and expansion which has happened in Mina or he was acting upon a hidden agenda. Furthermore, this year the stampede didn`t occur near the Jamarat. The stampede occurred inside the campsite situated in Mina.
Secondly, one might say that nevertheless, the pictures are not photo shopped,they do show bulldozers being used. True. The pictures attached by Mr.Fatah are not photo shopped, they are real but have been presented in a way which distorts the reality.
The first 2 images are from the 2003 stampede when 14 pilgrims lost their lives. The bulldozers shown in the picture, are not piling up the dead bodies, the bulldozers were only brought in once the bodies of martyred pilgrims were removed from the location.
From the above attached pictures, it can be clearly deduced that the authorities removed the bodies and then brought in the bulldozers to remove leftover articles of the pilgrims. It also sheds light on how easy it is to distort the truth by using content out of context. The picture in Mr. Fatah`s tweet which shows bodies piled up is probably fresh and not photo shopped. He wasn`t the first one to post that picture either, before him many embedded hajj journalists and tweeps posted such pictures and clips which showed bodies “tangled” together and piled up.
The above video was made right after the stampede. The bodies weren`t piled there by the Saudi authorities it happened as a result of the aftermath of a stampede. The video shown below is from Multan(2014) where Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) held a political gathering which ended in a stampede resulting in the death of 7 people. The purpose for showing this video is to understand that whenever a stampede occurs, bodies get piled up. This is the main reason why people die in a stampede.
It is apparent now that a certain lobby is at work to blow the whole tragedy out of context, which is understandable as the Middle East is a war zone with Saudi Arabia and Iran as the key players. As the saying goes, all is fair in love and war. International lobbying firms and social media teams have been hired by both sides to distort the reality. This however does not absolve the Saudi authorities from being held responsible for what happened. The simplistic statements coming from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia are simply too simplistic. No one has control over fate and destiny, yes. But the death of 700+ pilgrims is not something to be overlooked.
Videos and photos coming out from KSA clearly show that in spite of sincere efforts to serve the pilgrims, Saudi authorities have clearly been under pressure to cater for over 2 million pilgrims. Power cuts and heaps of garbage all point towards inefficient administration. This is something Saudi authorities have to focus on, as they are the custodians of the 2 Holy Mosques and the hosts of Hajj.
This probably is the most valid concern being raised by everyone. Saudi authorities are allowing simply too many pilgrims each year to take part in Hajj which is affecting the efficiency of the Saudi authorities. It would perhaps be in everyone`s interest for an upper cap to be placed on the number of pilgrims. Saudi`s should only allow as much pilgrims as they can effectively manage.
The time is perhaps ripe to form an independent commission comprising of representatives from all Islamic countries, which should carry out investigation into the Crane accident and the Mina stampede tragedies, the persons found responsible should be punished accordingly. Such a commission should be formed instantly to avoid further speculation and confusion.
Furthermore there are a few points which the Saudi authorities need to ponder over. The world is changing, geo-politics of this region have changed a lot over the past year, perhaps by working upon these points the Saudi`s can regain some lost honor.
1-A joint body should be formed comprising of representatives from all the Islamic countries to reform the Hajj policy.
2-The number of pilgrims allowed for hajj should be reduced to 2 million or even less to allow for better management.
3-Those who have already performed hajj, should be barred for a few years.
4-Saudi`s should collaborate with other Muslim countries in the training of pilgrims so that they can understand the rules and follow them to make the hajj even more seamless.
Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam is the name of physical and spiritual struggle. Many people point out that complaining about hajj spoils the real spirit of hajj i-e to bear hardships to please the Almighty Allah. There is a little difference between complaining and maintaining a set standard. While it is true that complaining spoils the essence or worship which one performs only for the please of the Almighty Allah, it does not mean that we forget other tenets and commandments of Islam.
As the Holy Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) commanded that cleanliness is one half of faith. Therefore Muslims should not forget that while engaging in individual or communal acts of worship it is important to follow all commandments. Islam is not just a religion, it is a complete code of life. It not only deals with a mans relation with God, but also the relation of man with the society. Whilst we are all quick to point out the deficiencies and weaknesses of Saudi government and authorities in managing the Hajj, we must compliment the tireless efforts of the ground staff and security officers who had a vital part in making the rituals as seamless as possible for the pilgrims.
May Allah[s.w.t] accept everyone`s hajj and service to the pilgrims. May the martyred pilgrims receive highest honor in heaven and may the blessings of this hajj become a reason for the end to the miseries being faced by people in the Middle East specially the migrants and refugees.