There were at least 717 killed and more than 850 more injured Thursday morning in a stampede in Mina, just outside Mecca , Saudi Arabia. The stampede occurred during the Hajj, a pilgrimage that drew more than 2 million people to the Quabba for the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha. It reportedly occurred during the “stoning of the devil” ritual, in which Muslims throw stones at a pillar, symbolizing the devil.
The Hajj ,a pilgrimage to Mecca incumbent upon every Muslim, is one of the five pillars of Islam. “Stoning of the devil” is one of the acts every Muslim is required to perform while on Hajj. According to Islam, Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, Ishamel, who urged his father to do so. The devil appeared to Abraham three times along the way to dissuade him, and Abraham chased him off each time by throwing seven stones at him. Pilgrims throw stones at three walls, called jamarāt, to symbolize this.
The Hajj has seen several tragedies of this sort. Just a few weeks ago, on the anniversary of the 9-11 terror attack, a construction crane belonging to the Bin Laden company fell in high winds, killing 107 pilgrims from all over the world, including a top Iranian scientist. In 1990, 1,426 were killed when a tunnel collapsed. The “Stoning of the Devil” has been particularly problematic, with many cases of fatal stampedes:
- 1994-270 killed
- 1998-118 killed
- 2001-35 killed
- 2003-14 killed
- 2004-251 killed
- 2006- 346 killed
Following the 2006 incident, the jamarāt area was rebuilt for $1.2 billion, replacing the pillars with long walls, oval apertures underneath to funnels the stones away, and five-level bridges, to accommodate the masses of pilgrims.
The Hajj has also had fires, riots, hotels collapsing, and many outbreaks of communicable diseases. There have also been several cases of planes carrying pilgrims crashing. Saudi authorities are faced with the enormous logistical challenge of accommodating enormous numbers of pilgrims who must all perform precise rituals at specific times. Because of this, they have restricted the number of visas issued to Muslims abroad until the completion of a major expansion project worth about $21.3 billion launched in 2011.They are also faced with crowds of people from many different countries speaking different languages.
The Saudi health minister, Khalid al-Falih, said in a statement that the stampede may have been caused by “some pilgrims who didn’t follow the guidelines and instructions issued by the responsible authorities.”
Others blamed security officials who temporarily closed off exits for unexplained reasons just before the set time for the ritual.