Hajj Tragedy

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Not believing in any religions, I am always baffled at these tragedies. Today over 700 have died because of poor crowd control and it’s not unusual for these things to happen – think about the times we have heard about similar events in India and Saudi Arabia over the last twenty-five years, the figures are nearly always in the several hundreds.

I can understand the idea of a pilgrimage – I’ve seen it with my own eyes at the Vatican in Rome. There I saw just how determined people were to push and shove their way through our kids we’d taken on a school trip just to see Pope Francis in the flesh. There was a total disregard for their fellow humans and it’s that element that confuses me. For those who claim to believe in a higher benevolent power who preaches about love and hope many of those i came face to face with that day had obviously missed that day at Sunday School.

I don’t mean to trivialize the horrible event and deaths today, or the rituals of pilgrimage that the Muslims were carrying out in their trip to “stone the devil”, but you have to wonder if the cost of human lives is worth it. Saudi officials are almost shrugging their shoulders over this and blame the crowds of people which could easily be the case – but they must face up to the facts that this is becoming a regular occurrence. Was there not a separate system for people entering the area of the Mina that has the Jamarat pillar as opposed to those leaving? It appears that the officials closed off two exits without explanation which contributed to the problem.

The fact that people were climbing over each other shows that our animal instincts still kick in when it comes to survival. Most of the deaths were caused this way according to officials. These tragedies are too commonplace in the same venues year after year, yet no lessons are learned from them. I know that every Muslim is expected – as long as they can afford it – to attend this pilgrimage once in their life, but when two million people turn up for a free for all what do people expect is going to happen? You can guarantee that many of the dead will be children too as they will not have been able to survive the crush from above.

If these travels to places of religious significance mean anything is neither here nor there, in the end it comes down to human tragedy. There is however a question for those in charge of the religions and the responsibility they have in protecting their followers. There need to be clear instructions, safety measures, advice and information available and a reminder of what the trip is truly about. A pilgrimage should be to solidify and express your beliefs and not be a life threatening experience.

To be cynical for a moment – I know who’d have expected that – I do worry that these events are seen as money-making exercises by the locations in which they are held. While the religious relevance will be a factor, so will the influx of money to the region with that volume of people too. One of my real bugbears with religion is the overt greed at the top of many major religions that you can see in their palaces, temples, cathedrals and places of worship while those who are believers are sometimes going without life’s essentials.

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong but you do wonder why these things happen on an almost annual basis and nothing is really done to stop it. I know how important Hajj is as the fifth and final pillar of the Islamic faith – but I would question whether the loss of life justifies the pilgrimage and rituals involved.

Sympathies go to all those affected and to those who find their once in a lifetime experience soured by the tragedy. If religion brings hope, love and happiness to you it shouldn’t be taken from you in this way.

JD

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