MS Risk Blog

A Brief History of Major Incidents During the Hajj

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

More than 1.75 million worshippers from 168 countries arrived in Saudi Arabia this week for the five-day ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

All the pilgrims will arrive by Thursday morning at Mount Arafat, about 15 km (10 miles) east of Mecca, for a day-long vigil to atone for their sins and seek God’s mercy. The Eid al-Adha, or feast of the sacrifice, starts on Friday.

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites — Mecca and Medina — and organising the pilgrimage. Officials say they have taken all necessary precautions this year, with more than 100,000 members of the security forces and 30,000 health workers on hand to maintain safety and provide first aid. Security services are also on high alert for terrorist activity, however, they state that so far, no plots have been detected.

The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen deadly stampedes, fires and riots, with authorities sometimes struggling to respond.

The Largest disaster occurred on 24th September 2015. Over 2000 pilgrims were killed in a crush and stampede incident in Mina. The Saudi Interior Ministry stated that the stampede was triggered when two large groups of pilgrims intersected from different directions onto the same street. The area was not previously identified as a dangerous bottleneck despite being positioned between two camps. Pilgrims from 42 countries were killed, with the most victims coming from Iran.

Between 2001 and 2006 approximately 614 people were killed in other stampede-related incidents, most occurring during the stoning ritual in Mina.

In 1997, a fire erupted, allegedly caused by exploding canisters of cooking gas, killing around 300 people, although the death toll has never been confirmed. The fire was fanned by winds of nearly 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) causing the destruction of an estimated 70,000 tents. Officially, 1,290 were injured and 217 killed, though witnesses and local newspapers claimed at least 300 were killed, many trampled in the panic. The fire was fought by three hundred fire engines as well as helicopters, and controlled in three hours. The tents are now fire-proof.

In 1987, a clash between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi Arabian security forces resulted in the death of around 400 people. During the Hajj, Iranian pilgrims began a demonstration against the “enemies of Islam” – including the US and Israel. At some point, the protest march was blocked by Saudi riot police and was diverted towards the Great Mosque. At this point, individuals nearby began harassing the demonstrators, throwing bricks and stones. The violence escalated and resulted in a violent clash with security forces, who reportedly used truncheons and electric prods, whilst the demonstrators were armed with knives and clubs. Saudi security personnel reportedly opened fire on the demonstrators, a charge which Saudi officials deny. The rioting, and the resulting stampede caused a reported 402 dead (275 Iranians, 85 Saudis including policemen, and 42 pilgrims from other countries) and 649 wounded (303 Iranians, 145 Saudis and 201 other nationals). The details are controversial. Iranian officials maintain that the Saudis had fired on the protesters without provocation, and that the demonstrations had been peaceful. Saudi officials insist that no shots were fired, and that all deaths were caused by the melee and stampede.

Eid al-Adha is the commemoration of Abraham’s dedication to God, through the readiness to sacrifice his son. It is the most sacred holiday of the Muslim faith. Abraham and his son later built the Kaaba as a site of worship for God. God commanded Abraham to proclaim a pilgrimage to the site to all mankind so that they can come together in one place to show their devotion to God.