Near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, this morning, at least 717 people lost their lives and another 863 were injured in a tragic occurrence that reportedly resulted from a crowd stampede at an intersection in Mina, about six miles east of the city.
Mina provides temporary accommodations, with tens of thousands of air-conditioned tents, for many of the more than two million pilgrims who make the hajj to circumnavigate the Kaaba, which sits at the center of the Grand Mosque. Two medical centers were opened to treat the injured. More than 4,000 emergency workers were sent to the scene, and hundreds of people were taken to four hospitals.
The accident, witnesses reported on social media, occurred at about 9 A.M. close to the area where pilgrims go to perform the Stoning of the Devil ritual – a re-enactment of a story from the Quran involving the Prophet Abraham.
This is the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest days on the Muslim calendar, and millions are making their hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, which every able-bodied believer is required to do at least once.
Today’s accident appears to be the deadliest since 1990, when 1426 pilgrims perished as a stampede developed inside a tunnel linking Mecca and Mina. And it comes less than two weeks after a large construction crane toppled and crashed into the Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing at least 111 and injuring 394 others.
With the growth of the global middle-class, more and more people are making the annual pilgrimage. That is placing increasing strain on the Saudi authorities’ efforts to manage the event. This latest tragedy is likely to intensify fears that the kingdom lacks the transportation and infrastructure to channel and protect what has become the world’s largest human migration.
Even before today’s incident, this year’s pilgimage was marred by multiple mishaps.
Last week, about a thousand Asian visitors were forced to leave their hotel rooms because of a fire. And just a few days ago, another hotel fire in Mecca caused the evacuation of 1500 pilgrims.
The vast majority of those who come to make hajj are not from Saudi Arabia and therefore have little or no influence upon the government to improve crowd control and public safety.
Madawi al-Rasheed, visiting professor at the London School of Economics, says, “There is no accountability. It’s shocking that almost every year there is some kind of death toll.”
He further states that officials in the kingdom have avoided responsibility in part by citing the Islamic doctrine that anyone who dies during the pilgrimage will go to heaven.