While Islamic communities all over the world celebrate Id El Kabir, tragedy struck this morning in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca. According to CNN, at least 720 pilgrims have been confirmed dead and over 800 injured in a stampede while trying to participate in the ‘Stoning The Devil’ ritual. Pilgrims were walking toward the largest of the pillars when there was a sudden surge in the crowd at about 9 a.m., causing a large number of people to fall, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, citing civil defense officials. Ethar El-Katatney, a pilgrim who was near the stampede site about five hours after the surge happened, said she walked past ambulances that were taking bodies of victims. She said she saw numerous police officers and medical personnel in the area.
Stoning of the Devil is part of the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at three walls in the city of Mina, east of Mecca as a rejection of sin. After the ritual is completed, pilgrims are expected to shave their hair in total commitment to the act. This act is modeled after a similar scenario in the holy book, where Abraham stoned the Devil. The story goes to say that God told Abraham in a dream to slaughter his only son – Ishmael in Muslim belief – as a sacrifice to God. When Abraham proceeded to sacrifice his son, the Devil appeared three times to dissuade him from fulfilling killing his only son. Abraham in an attempt to chase the devil away threw stones at him. It is believed that Abraham stoned the devil seven stones each time he appeared before him – thus the replication of same act in Hajj pilgrimage.
Stoning of the Devil is a very important series of ritual acts that must be performed in the Hajj, but unfortunately, lives have been lost, injuries sustained and friends and family displaced during the ritual today. Although the Saudi Arabian authorities have made a lot of arrangements to avoid stampede during the ritual, clearly, it seemed not be enough in a gathering of between 2 – 3 million Pilgrims – which doubles the population of Mecca. Over the years, hundreds of pilgrims have been killed during the same ceremony. This is happening only 13 days after a crane collapse killed more than 100 people at another major Islamic holy site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
In the history of stampedes in Mecca, this year’s is said to have the highest number of deaths, as there was about 244 deaths recorded in 2014’s stampede.
“We have a stampede accident in Mina, and civil defense is dealing with it,” said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman. Civil defense authorities said “the latest death toll is 453, but the numbers have been climbing steadily”. Officials deployed 4,000 workers, along with 220 ambulances and other vehicles, to Mina to help deal with the disaster.