Friday, September 11, 2015 saw a horrific tragedy unfold in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The combination of a storm and a crane killed over a hundred people at the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram); over 200 were injured when the massive crane, toppled by the storm, crashed into the holy place where worshippers were praying.
Details are in the news links below.
On September 24, in the Mina valley outside of Mecca, pilgrims had assembled to throw stones at three rocky pillars called Jamarat. According to religious tradition this was where Satan tempted the Prophet Abraham; here more tragedy unfolded. A stampede killed 700 pilgrims and wounded over 800 in the ensuing chaos and panic.
In this tragic September for Mecca and the pilgrims returning to their religious roots, both events are sad reminders of how fragile life is on this planet traversing the cosmos. A pilgrimage to a holy place like Mecca is supposed to be one of joyful anticipation and warming of the spirit.
One does not expect to meet the specter of death or receive injury in this noble quest to reconnect to the past and to worship with fellow believers. Our hearts are saddened by such suffering and misery for those who died and their families who will grieve the loss of their loved ones the rest of their mortal lives.
To the ones who were injured they will carry those scars and memories of such an event. For some of them their lives will be changed forever as they cope with their physical and mental disabilities in the years to come.
For the rest of the two million pilgrims as they return home this week, this holy week will, for them, become part of their experiences and memories as they share them with their children and friends. Many will hope that the next pilgrimage will be one of peace and joy instead of sadness and tragedy.
We all share this planet. We all are connected by the human origins from whence we came.
What affects one group of humans affects us all. The death of one is a reminder to all that our time here on this majestic orb is finite, and we never know when the final moment of life will come.
The final moment is something which none can escape. From conception to death our lives are a journey from the shore of earth to the shores of eternity where life returns to the cosmic ocean from which it originated.
G. D. Williams © 2015
Essam al-Ghalib, a Jeddah-based journalist, said the crane fell through the outer ring of the Grand Mosque and punctured through the roof sending down tonnes of cement and debris onto people either praying or walking through.
Mecca is currently preparing for the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage. Up to two million people are expected to arrive in the Saudi city from all over the world later this month.
Irfan Al-Alawi, from the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told the BBC that the Grand Mosque is currently surrounded by 15 large cranes amid major redevelopment work.
The Grand Mosque and the cube-shaped Kaaba within it draw Muslims of all types from around the world throughout the year, though numbers increase significantly in the run-up to the hajj. The mosque is Islam’s holiest site to which Muslims face in daily prayers and a central site among the hajj rituals.
Performing the pilgrimage once during one’s lifetime is a duty for all able-bodied adult Muslims. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to start around Sept. 22.
Prayers on and around the mount are a climactic emotional and spiritual moment in the hajj. The faithful believe that on that day the gates of heaven are open, prayers are answered and past sins are forgiven.
“My main concern is safety issues that arise with such a big crowd,” said Faten Abdelfattah, 32, of Texas, who was leaving Saturday. “It’s a reminder to put my trust in God and that I can’t stop death if it’s my time whether I’m there or sleeping safely in bed.”
She thinks the Saudi government will take extra precautions.
“I feel more comfortable after learning that they prevented pilgrims from entering the [site of the Kaaba] to check on construction equipment,” she told CNN. “I believe they have the pilgrims’ best interests in mind and after the incident they won’t leave anything to chance.”
During the Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mina, a large valley about 5km (3 miles) from Mecca, to throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which represent the devil.
The pillars stand where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.
Hajj: Previous tragedies
2006: 364 pilgrims die in a crush at the foot of Jamarat Bridge in Mina
1997: 340 pilgrims are killed when fire fuelled by high winds sweeps through Mina’s tent city
1994: 270 pilgrims die in a stampede during the stoning ritual
1990: 1,426 pilgrims, mainly Asian, die in a stampede in an overcrowded tunnel leading to holy sites
1987: 402 people die when security forces break up an anti-US demonstration by Iranian pilgrims
Thousands of Iranian worshippers have marched in Tehran to protest at Saudi Arabia’s handling of the hajj pilgrimage, adding to growing pressure on the kingdom from within the Islamic world in the wake of death of at least 717 people in a crush outside Mecca.
More than 850 people were also wounded in the crush during the symbolic stoning of the devil at Mina, the worst tragedy during the hajj for 25 years. It was the second deadly accident affecting Mecca worshippers this month, after a crane collapse in the holy city killed more than 100.
Saudi authorities have yet to provide a breakdown of the nationalities of the 717 victims, but several foreign countries have announced the deaths of nationals. Death tolls given by foreign officials and international media so far are: Pakistan, 236; Iran, 131; Morocco, 87; India, 14; Egypt, 14; Somalia, 8; Senegal, 5; Tanzania, 4; Turkey, 4; Algeria, 3; Kenya, 3; Indonesia, 3; Burundi, 1; and Netherlands, 1.
The stampede drew a barrage of criticism from Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran and its allies, who accused the kingdom of mismanagement and incompetence.
Saudi officials said crowding was one cause of the disaster that left 717 people dead. Health Minister Khalid al-Faleh also blamed pilgrims, saying they failed to follow instructions issued by authorities to manage the crowds and moved in opposite directions.
Pope Francis began the service by offering prayers after the tragedy at Mecca, expressing “my sentiments of closeness,” to the hundreds of Muslim pilgrims who lost their lives in Saudi Arabia. A stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season — the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — killed more than 700 people and injured close to 900.
“In this moment I give them assurances of my prayers,” Francis said.