A lot has been written and debated about the tragic and inexcusable events in Mecca which has claimed close to one thousand souls with many more injured. We don’t know what the final tally is, because currently the Saudi official sources have stopped reporting the numbers. Hajj, of course is one of the five pillars of Islam and is demanded of every Muslim to perform once in their lifetime if they are capable to do so.
The reactions to the most recent Mecca pilgrims deaths I’ve come across generally are either apologists trying to shift the blame to the pilgrims themselves, their nationality – thus being completely racist – as well as blaming their countries of origin whom they say are responsible for educating their citizens before they embark on the pilgrimage; through to those who squarely blame the Saudi regime labelling it as incompetent and fatalistic and should never be allowed to run this holy event in the Muslim calendar.
The number of tragedies in recent history certainly gives the latter thoughts some credibility as the cycle of deaths and more importantly their cause isn’t stopping giving rise to the fact that the Saudis aren’t learning from experiences, or if they are, they’re not adapting their ways to ensure that more tragedies won’t occur in the future.
Another opinion goes further and touches upon the Hajj itself is a business and a major source of revenue for Saudi and almost state that the pilgrims themselves and the event itself is a side consideration. There is no doubt that these opinions are harsh and I can understand the anger surrounding the issue. People’s lives are precious, and if they seem to have gone in vain, the pain is even harder to come to terms with.
There are other comparisons. People ask, how is it that Octoberfest in Munich attracts seven million drunks and we never hear of stampedes and deaths? There are other large gatherings around the world that do not suffer such a fate either. According to ARC (pdf), 30 million pilgrims attend Ayyappan Saranam, India , 20 million pilgrims in Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Karbala in Iraq welcomes 10 million worshippers annually for the Arba’een Commemoration and the event passes generally peacefully and without much regular incidents save for some terrorist attacks and even those have been mitigated, yet in Mecca with just two million, tragedies are the norm, and so is blaming the pilgrims rather than the system.
A safe and secure pilgrimage is a must and it’s high time that it becomes a reality. This holy Muslim right has been going on for over 1,400 years, one would think that a system to safely run it would have been absolutely perfected by now. Yet the evident truth is that it hasn’t. As Saudi Arabia has taken it upon itself to be the custodian of the two holy mosques and the Hajj, it is incumbent upon them to ensure that this event is regularised as clock-work and be safe for everyone who wants to perform it. It is only through an acceptance of accountability, criticism – regardless of how harsh it may seem – and clear definitions of responsibilities can these issues be resolved for the short as well as the long term. It will also help to refuse to ascribe these issues to fate in any way, but work though them with logic and a transparent evaluation of the facts to clearly identify and repair what has gone wrong.
My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who perished.