Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Saudi Arabia tries to create a safer hajj

A recent article in CSM describes how over three hundred people died in this years pilgrimage to Mecca. Although the number is higher this year, similar losses have occurred before. "During the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the stoning ceremony has been the frequent scene of disaster. In 2004, 244 were killed in a stampede and in 1994 another 270 died."

Last Thursday's stampede started when a wave of pilgrims rushed forward at noon to pelt pebbles at three pillars, mimicking the stoning of the devil. Most pilgrims follow the tradition of Islam's prophet Mohammad and wait until noon to throw pebbles, as he did during hajj more than 1,400 years ago.
"We will study the issue of stoning before noon and hopefully issue a group fatwa to express our point of view," says Abdul-Qahar Qamar, an Islamic law scholar and researcher at the academy.

As it stands, hajj authorities are expected to move some 3 million people through an area the size of a football stadium, in the space of 5-1/2 hours, without anyone getting hurt, says Mohammad Idrees, a deputy at the Mecca-based Hajj Research Center, which oversees the safety of the hajj.

A ruling to allow pilgrims to throw their pebbles throughout the day would take care of most of the congestion in the Jamarat area which houses the pillars.

So there is a sensible way for the risk to be minimized. Maybe by next year the clerics can get together on a better game plan.

Before we get all self-righteous about those heathens, we might want to take a look at some of the motes in our own eye.

***When two of our children were reaching adolescence they were driven by some bizarre inner urge to make a pilgrimage of sorts to Panama City, Florida during spring break. We learned that several youngsters are killed annually in traffic accidents as they travel to and from that destination. Such deaths are no longer newsworthy. I suspect that similar statistics would be typical of other spring break destinations.

*** Don't I recall something about a bonfire in Texas that collapsed with fatal results a couple of years ago? Important part of post-secondary education, I guess...

***Would it be tacky to mention alcohol-ralated traffic deaths in America? Probably. But when the fatality is in the other vehicle, we can't argue that such deaths are the result of the victim's own neglect.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

FWIW, there is at least one Saudi expat, The Religious Policeman, who takes the Saudi authorities to task with no help from outside the culture...

The Cabinet meeting, which is first after Haj, commended the various government and private organizations for their efforts in the successful organization of the annual event. It expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of several pilgrims in two accidents: a stampede in Mina and a building collapse in Makkah.

Excuse me. I just had to go out and vomit. I'll be myself in a minute.

There were only supposed to be 2.5 million there, but another 1.5 million managed to slip in when no-one was looking; a total of 4 million in an area the size of London's West End or New York's Midtown. The security forces themselves admitted that they were helpless and reduced to being onlookers. Squatters were allowed to wander around with bulky luggage in tow, accidents waiting to happen, and a stampede took place yet again in the location where the stampedes always take place, killing 360. Meanwhile a hotel collapsed, killing 60, and the ministries are still arguing over who should have inspected the building. And that is a Success? God spare us from a failure!

No comments: