The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Another Hajj Tragedy 

345 pilgrims killed in Makkah. Many hundreds injured. May God grant them peace.

There is something very eerie about writing about the dangers, and then seeing yet another repetition, once more the corpses being loaded into trucks. It just keeps happening again and again, like a bad nightmare.

According to the "Saudi Gazette", the apparent cause was

Street pilgrims, people without permits who squat on the streets of the Holy Sites, were mostly blamed for the catastrophe as they headed toward the bridge with their luggage. A number of them stumbled and then fell as hundreds of thousands of others heaved and pushed the wave of humanity mounting the bridge.

However, let's face it, that was a secondary cause. The primary cause was the sheer number of people. For not only were there....

According to official statements, some 2.5 million pilgrims are at Mina and the Holy Sites performing Haj with permits.

....but the ones with luggage do not appear to have had permits, otherwise they would have had accomodation, because you don't get one without the other. So how many additional pilgrims were there? What was the total number?

Sources inside the security forces said that the number of pilgrims was much higher and tipped four million.

Hells teeth! If that's the case, that's one and a half million additional unauthorized pilgrims, sleeping out overnight, clogging up the route with their luggage by day. Add them to the 2.5 million official ones, and it's way beyond what anyone planned for, way beyond the capability of the security forces, it's all the proverbial "disaster waiting to happen".

So what's to be done? The "Arab News" offers this advice

Pilgrims themselves have to be more disciplined. They have to be more responsible. In many countries those going on Haj have to attend courses so that they know what to expect and what to do. This must be made compulsory for all as a condition for getting Haj visas.

In La La Land, pilgrims should go on courses. In the real world, we need to seriously question the sanity of squeezing two, three, four million people thru an area the size of Piccadilly Circus in London, so that every single one of them can throw stones at something smaller than the statue of Eros. It was fine when there were just tens of thousands of us. But with the explosion in numbers over recent decades, it just isn't sustainable. In fact, it's sheer madness.

I go back to what I said before. There are 3 choices:

1. Reduce the numbers to a manageable size, one that the security forces can handle without getting swamped. If that means that not every potential pilgrim will be able to come in their lifetime, then be honest, announce the fact that for practical reasons, one of the pillars of Islam is no longer compulsory.

2. Have monthly Hajj's.

3. A combination.

King Abdullah is "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques". That doesn't just mean the buildings, it should mean the visitors as well. Now is the time for him to go beyond the fancy title and show some real leadership. I don't see anyone else out there who is in a position to do it.

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