MUSLIMS and HAJJ ‘Sea of dead bodies’ – More than 700 dead in hajj crush of Mecca in Saudi Arabia

September 25, 2015 1:15 am

 

At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the crush. Photo / Getty Images

A horrific stampede killed at least 717 pilgrims and injured hundreds
more Thursday on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi
Arabia, the deadliest tragedy to strike the annual hajj pilgrimage in
more than two decades.
At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the
crush, said the Saudi civil defense directorate, which provided the
death toll. The tragedy struck as Muslims around the world marked the
start of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Emergency workers with the bodies of those crushed. The disaster has revived questions about Saudi Arabia's ability to manage the hajj. Photo / Getty Images
Emergency workers with the bodies of those
crushed. The disaster has revived questions about ’s ability
to manage the hajj. Photo / Getty Images
It was the second major disaster during this year’s hajj
season, raising questions about the adequacy of measures put in place by
Saudi authorities to ensure the safety of the roughly 2 million Muslims
taking part in the pilgrimage. A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two
weeks earlier left 111 people dead.

Many of the victims were crushed and trampled to death as they
were on their way to perform a symbolic stoning of the devil by
throwing pebbles against three stone columns in Mina, a large valley
about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca that has been the site of hajj
stampedes in past years. The area houses more than 160,000 tents where
pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.
Two survivors
interviewed by The Associated Press said the disaster began when one
wave of pilgrims found themselves heading into a mass of people going in
another direction.




“I saw someone trip over someone in a wheelchair and
several people tripping over him. People were climbing over one another
just to breathe,” said one of the survivors, Abdullah Lotfy, 44, from
Egypt. “It was like a wave. You go forward and suddenly you go back.”

Saudi emergency personnel and Hajj pilgrims load a wounded person into an ambulance. Photo / Getty Images
Saudi emergency personnel and Hajj pilgrims load a wounded person into an ambulance. Photo / Getty Images
Lotfy said that having two flows of pilgrims interacting in
this way should never have happened. “There was no preparation. What
happened was more than they were ready for,” he said of the Saudi
authorities.
Saudi Arabia takes great pride in its role as the
caretaker of Islam’s holiest sites and host to millions of pilgrims
annually. But the hajj poses an immense logistical and security
challenge for the kingdom, given the sheer number of hundreds of
thousands of people – from differing linguistic and cultural
backgrounds, many of whom have saved for years for the
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the hajj – intent on following
the same set of rituals at about the same time.
The kingdom’s
Interior Ministry said later Thursday that the crush appears to have
been caused by two waves of pilgrims meeting at an intersection. King
Salman ordered the creation of committee to investigate the incident.
Warning: Graphic content:


 Video

The ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, said
high temperatures and the fatigue of the pilgrims may also have been
factors in the disaster. He said there was no indication that
authorities were to blame for the event, adding that “unfortunately,
these incidents happen in a moment.”
Another survivor, Ismail
Hamba, 58, from Nigeria, recalled falling down and then being trampled
over by marching pilgrims. “It was terrible, it was really, really
terrible,” he said.
Thursday’s tragedy struck during a morning
surge of pilgrims at the intersection of streets 204 and 223 as the
faithful were making their way toward a large structure overlooking the
columns, according to the civil defense directorate.
The
multi-story structure, known as Jamarat Bridge, is designed to ease the
pressure of the crowds and prevent pilgrims from being trampled.
Ambulance
sirens blared and helicopters hovered overhead as rescue crews rushed
the injured to nearby hospitals. More than 220 rescue vehicles and some
4,000 members of the emergency services were deployed soon after the
stampede to try to ease the congestion and provide alternative exit
routes, according to the directorate.
Amateur video shared on
social media showed a horrific scene, with scores of bodies – the men
dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during hajj – lying amid
crushed wheelchairs and water bottles along a sunbaked street.

Saudi emergency workers stand near bodies of hajj pilgrims at the site where more than 700 were killed and hundreds more wounded. Photo / Getty Images
Saudi emergency workers stand near bodies of
hajj pilgrims at the site where more than 700 were killed and hundreds
more wounded. Photo / Getty Images
Survivors assessed the scene from the top of roadside
stalls near white tents as rescue workers in orange and yellow vests
combed the area.
International media covering the hajj, including
The Associated Press journalists in Mina, were restricted from visiting
the site of the accident for several hours and from immediately leaving
an Information Ministry complex where the press is housed during the
final three days of the pilgrimage, per government rules.
Photos
released by the directorate on its official Twitter account showed
rescue workers helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto
ambulances near some of the tents.
Dozens of bodies could still
be seen in the streets at dusk despite the presence of ambulances and
refrigerator trucks to haul away the dead.
Saudi authorities take
extensive precautions to ensure the security and the safety of pilgrims
during the hajj, which is an obligation for every able-bodied Muslim.
The pilgrimage began in earnest Tuesday. There are about 100,000
security forces deployed this year to oversee crowd management and
ensure pilgrims’ safety during the five-day pilgrimage.

Ambulances at the scene of the stampede. Photo / Getty Images
Ambulances at the scene of the stampede. Photo / Getty Images
At Mina specifically, authorities have put measures in
place over the years to try to alleviate the pressure posed by masses of
pilgrims converging on the site of the stoning ritual.
Officials
use surveillance cameras and other equipment to limit the number of
people converging on the site, and the Jamarat Bridge has multiple exits
to facilitate the flow of people.
But tragedies are not uncommon.
The
death toll from Thursday’s crush far exceeded that of a similar
incident in 2006, near the same site, when more than 360 pilgrims were
killed in a stampede. Another stampede at Mina in 2004 left 244 pilgrims
dead and hundreds injured.
The deadliest hajj-related tragedy
happened in 1990, when at least 1,426 pilgrims perished in a stampede in
an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.
The
latest tragedy is certain to have touched many different countries as
the victims likely included pilgrims of different nationalities.
Sudanese pilgrim Mahmoun Mahmoud, 55, witnessed what he said appeared to be pilgrims from many different countries.
At
least 95 Iranian pilgrims perished, according to the official IRNA
agency. The chief of the Iranian hajj organizing agency, Saeed Ohadi,
said that “mismanagement by the Saudis” led to the tragedy. Deputy
foreign minister, Hossesin Amir Abdollahian, told the official IRNA news
agency that his ministry summoned the Saudi envoy to Tehran for an
official protest over what he called the “inadequate performance of
Saudi authorities” in the incident.
No Egyptian nationals died
according to initial reports but Egypt’s hajj delegation executive
president, Maj. Gen. Sayed Maher, said 30 Egyptians were injured in the
stampede.
The United States expressed its “deepest condolences”
for the victims of the “heartbreaking stampede” outside Mecca. National
Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. joins in mourning for
“the tragic loss of these faithful pilgrims.”
The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “deeply saddened” to hear of the deaths, his spokesman said in a statement.
In
the Pakistani city of Lahore, Sajida Arif, said her father, Haji Arif,
died in the stampede. “Before leaving for the hajj, he told me he had a
wish to be buried in Mecca,” she said.
Less than two weeks ago, a
giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in
Mecca, the focal point of the hajj. The Sept. 11 accident killed at
least 111 people and injured more than 390.
Authorities blamed
the crane collapse on high winds during an unusually powerful storm, and
faulted the construction giant Saudi Binladin Group, which oversees
construction at the mosque, for not following operating procedures.
And last Thursday, more than 1,000 fled a fire in an 11-story Mecca hotel that left two people injured.

Deadly hajj-related incidents

Muslim pilgrims make their way to cast stones at a pillar symbolizing the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called 'Jamarat', the last rite of the annual hajj. Photo / Getty Images
Muslim pilgrims make their way to cast
stones at a pillar symbolizing the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called
‘Jamarat’, the last rite of the annual hajj. Photo / Getty Images
2015: At least 150 people are killed and
400 injured in a stampede in Mina, on the outskirts of the holy city of
Mecca. In the lead-up to hajj, 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 a symbolic stoning of the devil by
throwing pebbles against three stone walls. 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 kills 244 pilgrims and injures hundreds on the final day of the hajj ceremonies.
2001: A stampede at Mina during the final day of the pilgrimage ceremonies kills 35 hajj pilgrims.
1998:
About 180 pilgrims are 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 are 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.
Each year between 2 to 3 million Muslims from around the world take part in a five-day pilgrimage in Mecca called the hajj.
They
circle Islam’s most sacred site, the cube-shaped Kaaba, and take part
in a series of intricate rituals. Here’s a look at some questions and
answers about Islam’s holiest site and the pilgrimage:

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE HAJJ?

The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have said that hajj is Arafat, in reference to the day spent there and its importance. Photo / Getty Images
The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have
said that hajj is Arafat, in reference to the day spent there and its
importance. Photo / Getty Images
Muslims believe that taking part in the hajj pilgrimage
leads to a spiritual rebirth. The Quran holds that on the Day of
Judgment, God will weigh a person’s sins and good deeds and based on
that they will face heaven or hell.
The hajj is seen as a chance
to wipe clean past sins and start fresh. Many unveiled women return from
the hajj covering their hair in an effort to remain devout.The hajj is a
main pillar of Islam, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform
once in their lifetime.

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE HAJJ?

While
following a route the Prophet Muhammad once walked, the rites of hajj
are believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim
and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.
Pilgrims
also trace the path of Hagar, the wife of Ibrahim, who Muslims believe
ran between two hills seven times searching for water for her dying son.
Tradition holds that God then brought forth a spring that runs to this
day.
That spring, known as the sacred well of Zamzam, is believed
to possess healing powers and pilgrims often return from the hajj with
bottles of its water as gifts.Muslims believe Ibrahim’s faith was tested
when faced with a command from God to kill his only son Ismail. Upon
hearing the command, Ibrahim was prepared to submit to God’s will.
He
then received a revelation that his sacrifice had been fulfilled by his
willingness to submit, and his son was spared. Christians and Jews
believe a similar version, but believe Abraham’s other son Isaac was the
intended sacrifice.
The final days of hajj coincide with Eid
al-Adha, or festival of sacrifice, celebrated by Muslims around the
world to commemorate Ibrahim’s test-of-faith. During the three-day Eid,
Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.

WHAT ARE THE RITUALS PERFORMED DURING THE HAJJ?

Tens of thousands scale a hill called Jabal al-Rahma, or mountain of mercy, in Arafat. Photo / Getty Images
Tens of thousands scale a hill called Jabal al-Rahma, or mountain of mercy, in Arafat. Photo / Getty Images
The hajj includes a number of physically demanding rites.
It traditionally begins in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with a smaller pilgrimage
called the “umrah”, which can be performed year-round. Pilgrims enter
into a state of physical and spiritual purity known as “ihram”.
Women
forgo makeup and perfume and wear loose-fitting clothing and a head
covering, while men are dressed in seamless, white terrycloth
garments.The umrah begins with circling the Kaaba counter-clockwise
seven times while reciting supplications to God.
Pilgrims then
walk between the two hills traveled by Hagar. Both rites are performed
in Mecca’s Grand Mosque.On the eighth day of the Islamic month of Dhul
Hijja, Muslims in ihram traditionally head five kilometers (three miles)
from the city of Mecca to Mina, a massive valley that houses more than
160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night.The next morning, pilgrims
head to Mount Arafat, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca.
This
day marks the pinnacle of hajj. The Prophet Muhammad is believed to
have said that hajj is Arafat, in reference to the day spent there and
its importance. Pilgrims are packed shoulder to shoulder there, with
some men and women openly weeping and praying.
Tens of thousands
scale a hill called Jabal al-Rahma, or mountain of mercy, in Arafat. It
is here where Muhammad delivered his final sermon during the hajj.
Around sunset, pilgrims head to an area called Muzdalifa, nine
kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat.
Many walk the distance by
foot, others use buses. They spend the night there and pick up pebbles
along the way that will be used in a symbolic stoning of the devil back
in Mina.
It was in Mina where Muslims believe the devil tried to
talk Ibrahim out of submitting to God’s will and sacrificing his son.The
last three days of the hajj are marked by three events: a final
circling of the Kaaba, casting stones in Mina and removing the ihram.
Men often shave their heads at the end in a sign of renewal.

HOW DO THE DISABLED AND ELDERLY PERFORM THE HAJJ?

Many
elderly and disabled people, who have waited a lifetime to perform the
hajj, travel with relatives who help them along the way. They use
wheelchairs and are assisted by ramps in the Grand Mosque to avoid the
massive crowds.
Despite the physical challenges of the hajj, many
people rely on canes or crutches and insist on walking the routes to
trace the footsteps of prophets before them.
Those who cannot
afford the hajj are sometimes financed by charities or community
leaders. Others save their entire lives to make the journey.
A few even walk thousands of miles by foot to Saudi Arabia, taking months to arrive.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS OF THE HAJJ?

The
state of ihram for men and women is aimed at shedding symbols of
materialism, giving up worldly pleasures and focusing on the inner self
over outward appearance. Sexual intercourse among spouses is not
permitted when one is in a state of ihram, neither is trimming hair or
nails.
The white ihram garments are forbidden to contain any
stitching – a restriction meant to emphasize the equality of all Muslims
and prevent wealthier pilgrims from differentiating themselves with
more elaborate garments.It is also forbidden for pilgrims to argue,
fight or lose their tempers during the hajj. Inevitably, though, the
massive crowds and physical exhaustion of the journey test pilgrims’
patience and tolerance.

WHY IS THE KAABA SO IMPORTANT TO MUSLIMS AND TO THE HAJJ?

Islamic
tradition holds that the Kaaba was built by Ibrahim and his son Ismail
as a house of monotheistic worship thousands of years ago.
Over
the years, the Kaaba was reconstructed and drew a wide range of people
to it for pilgrimage, including ancient Christian communities that once
lived in the Arabian Peninsula. In pre-Islamic times, the Kaaba was also
used to house pagan idols worshipped by the local tribes.
Muslims
do not worship the Kaaba, however it is Islam’s most sacred site
because it represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of
God in Islam.
Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during the five daily prayers.

Tags:
shared on wplocker.com