As to what triggered the catastrophic stampede at Mina there are varied versions. But what is common in all is that it was a massive tragedy which took lives of some 800 pilgrims including men, women and children and rendered over a thousand injured.
The tragedy is all the more grim for it is second such incident to take lives of the pilgrims during the Hajj season; early this month a construction crane had crashed into the gathering of the pilgrims killing over a hundred and wounding twice that number.
The crane, precariously placed as it was, had crashed under the force of strong winds. But at Mina, it was the presence of human hand, and absence of human mind, which led to the killer stampede.
Given that the Saudi government is spending some $60 billion to expand the Grand Mosque to facilitate safe and secure the Ramy Aljamarat area, the stampede should not have happened.
The culprit indeed is the human factor – either the 100,000-strong police posted on Hajj duties had failed to manage the movement of the crowds on way to the Rami al-Jumarrat (Stoning of the devil) ritual and back from there or, as reported by a section of media, the pilgrims precipitated stampede by acting afoul of management’s route plan.
As crowds coming from opposite directions are said to have run into each other the panic ensued triggering pushing and shoving, and all this in suffocating heat under the burning sun with temperate hovering around 114 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the crowds had behaved irresponsibly the security personnel posted at the routes to Mina hadn’t responded or acted responsibly either: their callousness about the post-stampede operation so graphically put on display by the social media.
As to who is responsible for the Mina tragedy a blame-game has begun, vitiating the sanctity of Hajj. Against the perceived Saudi failure to manage the Hajj the strongest words have been spoken by the Iranian leadership.
Imam Khamenei has demanded of Saudi Arabia to apologise for deaths at the Mina. The Saudis have reacted by calling it politics. There are also calls from some groups that instead of leaving the annual Hajj exercise in the hands of the Saudis the Muslim Ummah should be involved in its planning and implementation.
The Saudis are on the defensive, and would like to inform the world what actually led to the Mina stampede and some heads may roll. “We will reveal facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back,” says Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
It is our hope that this inquiry is held in the open for the world to see what went wrong and who was responsible for this. This is a must also because there is vocal segment of public opinion that the Mina tragedy could be averted but it was not; hence it is a case of ‘criminal negligence’.
Hopefully, the Saudi government would show no mercy for those who failed to perform their duty as planners and on-duty managers. It should know that a cover-up would be at the expense of Saudi rulers’ credibility, both as a country and the King’s role as the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques.
And if and when the Saudis undertake review of the Hajj management as promised by King Salman the governments of pilgrims’ countries too need to be reappraised of their role in this exercise. It is quite possible these governments also fall short of their responsibility, as apparently happens to be the case of Pakistan.
Five days on, the relevant minister and the DG Hajj are still unable to give definite figures of the dead, wounded and missing pilgrims. Maybe, in the beginning it was not possible to ascertain the facts, given the host authorities’ strict check on visits to morgues and hospitals. But by now that should have been handled at the diplomatic level.
That some of the pilgrims reportedly created the rushing mess – for this the Saudis blamed the Nigerians and others from that region – it is necessary that there should be a comprehensive pre-Hajj briefing of the intending pilgrims on how to help maintain discipline and follow the instructions issued by authorities of the kingdom.
Source: Business Recorder