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  March 2004

Current Affairs
Overcrowding and stampedes at Jamarat:
Points of view

By Dr. Mozammel Haque


Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam enjoined on those who are physically fit and financially sol vent. The ritual of symbolic stoning at the Jamarat is the most accident-prone part of the five-day Hajj pilgrimage. Overcrowding at the 1.6 km long Jamarat Bridge has offer caused stampedes and deaths in the past. The tragic death of 251 pilgrims in a stampede during the stoning ritual at the Jamarat in Mina on February 1 has again brought the issue of overcrowding at the holy sites in sharp focus.

To find out the causes and solutions of the overcrowding and stampedes at Jamarat, I have conducted interviews of important personalities of both Muslim majority and Muslim minority countries, such as Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn, Peer of the House of Lords and the Leader of the British Hajj Delegation from the United Kingdom on the one hand and Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, former Secretary-General of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, ex-deputy chairman of the Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia and present President of the World Muslim Congress on the other.

According to them, the main cause of the overcrowding is lack of awareness among the people. They suggested for clearing the areas surrounding the Jamarat of the illegal immigrants, beggars, peddlars and other people.

Excerpts of the interviews are given below:

Lord Patel

I have made many positive suggestions, number one, all the Hajjis, who are coming from Muzdallifah, should not go to the Jamarat straightaway. All the roads to Jamarat should be blocked. Secondly, the Hajjis should be escorted by the military to the tents. Thirdly, the Hajjis should be allocated time for stoning; and must be escorted by the military,” said Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn, who came this year for Hajj for the fourth time as a Leader of the British Hajj Delegation.

The British Hajj delegation consisted of 30 members. Eight doctors, which included two female doctors, two members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, two Councillors, myself and others,” Lord Patel told me in an interview after returning to London. About 22, 272 Hajjis came for Hajj from Britain this year. Lord Patel also added that none of their Hajjis was involved in the stampede in Jamarat.

Speaking about the stampede at the Jamarat, Lord Patel, who was present at Mina, said. “I was there at the time. People were coming in thousands with their bag and baggage direct from Muzdalifah to stone Satan at the Jamarat and were also using their elbows. They used their force, and the other groups who were coming from the opposite direction, also used their force. So it was almost like a clash. Pilgrims dropped their baggage, some fell down and nobody could stop, because of pushing and thumping from behind. Naturally, almost everybody was walking over. So this was the main reason.”

The other reason, according to Lord Patel, is the illegal immigrants around the Jamarat. “70 or 80 per cent of the space is being occupied by those illegal immigrants, the peddlars and the barbers,” Lord Patel said.

Talking about the solutions of the problem, he said “Nobody around the three-fourth of a mile or a mile of the Jamarat be allowed to sleep or to shave or anything of that sort. No vehicle should be allowed in that particular area,” suggested Lord Patel.

Lord Patel has put forward these suggestions to the Saudi Minister of Hajj and said, “I am sure that he is a very able man and has got listeners ears. If it will be possible for him to implement it, he will do it immediately. Or he would implement it slowly and gradually as time allows.”

Speaking about the role and cooperation of the Saudi officials, Lord Patel said, “Excellent. They did it with respect.” He also added, “Government has been taking many actions, as for example, they are going to build a ten-storied bridge to stone the Satan. But that is going to take a long time. For immediate action, I made the above suggestions.”

Creating Awareness is the Number
One Solution,” - Dr. Nasseef

 “The number one and the only solution is creating awareness among the people,” Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, presently President of the World Muslim Congress, said to me in an interview on the issue.

Dr. Nasseef, who has been performing Hajj almost every year and has been watching this for many years, said, “I have been watching this for many years. People in their enthusiasm throw stones and lose their mind. They moved in a group of 150 people surrounded by strong man. They just pushed and penetrated into the crowd intentionally without thinking. This shows the lack of awareness and training among the people. I think, even some educated people lost their mind; They wanted to perform their rituals without thinking and pondering, or without having respect for others. I have seen imams taking exercise to get stronger to hit just like an arrow into the crowd.

Describing his experience at the Jamarat in the past, Dr. Nasseef said, “Once I had the experience of having been pushed against the wall and I was falling down and people were above me and I was going to die.”

Dr. Nasseef has made the followings suggestions for the solution of this problem:

  1. There should be a systematic awareness and training programme long before the people start for Hajj, They should it do back home before they move and during traveling on the plane and the ship. When they come here in Makkah, they should also be controlled. The awareness programme should make the people aware not to push their way into the Jamarat, they should wait in their tents for the proper time.
  2. People, who were under the guidance of the Mutawwaf, went from Muzdlifah to the tent first and then to Jamarat. But there were people who had not been programmed, those who came from Jeddah and other cities of Saudi Arabia were not controlled by anybody, and they caused this nuisance. But many people went direct to the tent.
  3. The pedestrians were above 80 per cent. There were beggars, barbers and other people who sell their goods near Jamarat, many others slept on the street. All these should be removed; of course, this is a matter for discussion, because the Ulema don’t want to prevent people from performing Hajj. The government has started with the programme of building multi-storied buildings on each side so that people can have place to sleep.
  4. So far as the timing is concerned, Dr. Nasseef said, “I think the timing is alright. People have been spread over for stoning all the day, from midnight until evening.
  5. About using military to escort the Hajjis, Dr. Nasseef said, “I don’t think that is practical. Scouts and other volunteers can play a very important role. Number one and the only solution is creating awareness among the people.
  6. People, coming from small villages of around 400 inhabitants, do not know the direction of the crowd; they have no appearance of being in this type of crowd before. People run away and scatter here and there.
  7. Things have to be studied carefully and that is being done now by the King Fahd Hajj Research Center.
    About the solutions of overcrowding in Jamarat, Dr. Nasseef observed, “The Saudi Arabian government cannot do this alone. There has to be collective efforts by both the government of this country and the governments of the countries sending Hajjis and also the Hajj committees. We hope we can avoid this overcrowding and stampede at the Jamarat in the future. But without awareness, even if we expand the facilities it will not help.”

Role of the Saudi Government

King Fahd, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has issued a decree ordering the formation of a high-level committee to draft a new layout for Makkah, Madina and the ritual areas after Sunday’s disaster. Saudi authorities have blamed the stampede on frenzied pilgrims, saying it tried to avert crowding by asking them to perform the stoning ritual in an orderly manner and at different times.

Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority has approved the government plans to restructure Islam’s holiest sites after 251 Muslims were killed in the stampede. “The Council agreed on the need to develop Jamarat area to protect pilgrims,” said the Council of Senior Ulema, headed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Abdullahl-Sheikh. The Pensions Department in partnership with the General Organization of the Social Insurance (GOSI) is set to start building a massive superstructure of 10-story buildings at the foot of the Mount Mina.

Every year the Saudi government is doing something for the improvement of the facilities for the Hajjis around the Haramain. Lots of improvement and many facilities have been provided in the Haramain. The backgrounds of extension and enlargement of the Haramain and the many roads and flyovers and bridges around Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafah are not unknown to Hajjis. The Mina Tent City, for example, was built following a fire in 1997 when more than 300 pilgrims perished. The government has spent approximately SR. 2.8 billion on installing non-inflammable, air-conditioned tents and improving amenities to design the city that has some 57,000 tents. Pilgrims are awed by its sheer size commenting even that it is like something out of a sci-fi movie. The tents are separated into countries with flags signifying the nationality of each section.

Islam in Rwanda: Conquering Tormented Hearts

Washington: Ever since the state-sponsored Rwandan genocide started in 1994, in which ethnic Hutu extremists killed 800,000 minority Tutsis, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers, the US daily Washington Post reported.

Muslims now make up 14 per cent of the 8.2 million people here in Africa’s most Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began. Many converts say they chose Islam because of the role that some Catholic and Protestant leaders played in the genocide, the paper said in its issue of Sept 23, 2003.

“Human rights groups have documented several incidents in which Christian clerics allowed Tutsis to seek refuge in churches, then surrendered them to Hutu death squads, as well as instances of Hutu priests and ministers encouraging their congregations to kill Tutsis. Today some churches serve as memorials to the many people slaughtered among their pews,” the paper maintained.

Four clergymen are facing genocide charges at the UN-created International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and last year in Belgium, the former colonial power, two Rwandan nuns were convicted of murder for their roles in the massacre of 7,000 Tutsis who sought protection at a Benedictine convent, it added.
Many Muslim leaders and families are being honoured for protecting and hiding those who were fleeing during the genocide, reported the Post.

“I know people in America think Muslims are terrorists, but for Rwandans they were our freedom fighters during the genocide,” said Jean Pierre Sagahutu, 37, a Tutsi who converted to Islam from Catholicism after his father and nine other members of his family were slaughtered, the paper reported.

“I wanted to hide in a church, but that was the worst place to go. Instead, a Muslim family took me. They saved my life.”
The Post quoted Habimana, the chief Mufti in Rwanda saying, “Islam fits into the fabric of our society. It helps those who are in poverty. It preaches against behaviours that create AIDS. It offers education in the Koran (Qur’an ) and Arabic when there is not a lot of education being offered. I think people can relate to Islam. They are converting as a sign of appreciation to the Muslim community who sheltered them during the genocide.”
Imams across the country held meetings after September II, 2001, to clarify what it means to be a Muslim, the paper said. “I told everyone, ‘Islam means peace’,” said Imiyimana, recalling that the mosque was packed that day. “Considering our track record, it wasn’t hard to convince them.”

The Catholic church has a problem after genocide,” said the Rev. Jean Bosco Ntagugire, who works at Kigali churches. “The trust has been broken. We can’t say, ‘Christians come back’.”