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Jamaraat Stampede… A Survivor’s Tale

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PHOTO: www.360nobs.com

PHOTO: www.360nobs.com

First, it was a construction crane that crashed through the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the largest in the world and surrounds Islam’s holiest site known as the Kaaba. A powerful storm toppled the crane, according to the nation’s civil defense authorities, killing 107 people, while at least 238 others suffered injuries, casting a grim shadow on a yearly pilgrimage that draws millions to Saudi Arabia.

It is part of the procedures that millions of people must perform rituals in five days, including the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina, about two miles away from the Mecca holy site. It was at this point that the deadly stampede took place, the third day of the five-day event, killing about 2,177 people, while about 900 were injured, according to officials.

Among the suggested causes of the stampede, include pilgrims rushing to complete the rituals, heat, masses of faithful pushing against each other in opposite directions, even confusion among the many first-timers on the annual Islamic pilgrimage.

Iran leads all the affected countries, saying it had 465 pilgrims killed. Many of the dead also came from Africa. Mali said it lost 254 people, while Nigeria lost 199, Cameroon lost 76, Niger lost 72, Senegal lost 61, and Ivory Coast and Benin both lost 52.

Others include Egypt with 182, Bangladesh with 137, Indonesia with 126, India with 116, Pakistan with 102, Ethiopia with 47, Chad with 43, Morocco with 36, Algeria with 33, Sudan with 30, Burkina Faso with 22, Tanzania with 20, Somalia with 10, Kenya with eight, Ghana and Turkey with seven, Myanmar and Libya with six, China with four, Afghanistan with two and Jordan and Malaysia with one.

RECALLING his experience during the last Hajj, the Executive Director/CEO Zakat And Sadaqat Foundation, Imam Abdullahi Shuaib noted that, the dawn began with a cooling and refreshing weather.

“The atmosphere was alive with millions of pilgrims all heading towards Mina after, fulfilling one of the essential rites of Hajj, which is sleeping at Muzdalifah,” he said.

In company of Dr. Ismail Ibrahim, Dr. Tajudeen Yusuf, Sheikh Ismail Raji, Mudeer of Ma’dul Rahmah, Isolo and Ishaq Raji, his son, a student in Saudi Arabia, Shuaib set out around 5:30am, after observing the traditional Salatul Subh. Their take off point was Muzdalifah, which covered a distance of about three kilometers to their tent in Mina.

“It was a very bright Thursday, full of hope, enthusiasm and high spirit of brotherhood.
Immediately we got to Mina, we dropped all our small handbags and headed towards the Jamaraat, where we were expected to throw pebbles against the symbol of Satan (i.e. a wall-fence) positioned about three kilometers away from our tent,” he narrated.

But after walking for about one kilometer, the crowd was getting thicker to the extent that Shuaib and his friends found themselves stalked in the middle, which slowed their movement.

“We had to make a detour to our right going down a tunnel. At this juncture, extra-care and caution were required because the spot was very slippery due to the staircase and narrow tunnel. We did not know the reason for directing pilgrims to make a detour,” he said.

However, it was later gathered that pilgrims in Tent “A” category (which is the best of the Tents) didn’t want others to obstruct their movements and disrupt their enjoyment and comfort, which informed the no access movement for others.

“We managed to pass through the crowd, but not without the shoving, pushing and swinging aspects of the movement to the Jamaraat on that day. We finally got to the Jamaraat successfully. In fact, all of us got to the edge of the Jamaraat and threw our pebbles with the utmost ease,” he said.

Notwithstanding, there were pilgrims who were obviously very fatigue as a result of the crowd. While some of them obviously looked sick, others were tired as a result of old age; they took time out to regain their breath by the roadside.

“We availed ourselves of the opportunity of collecting bottles of water given out freely by the Saudi security-men. After exhausting our water, we also took water from the water dispensers placed along the road towards the Jamaraat. The strategy of drinking lots of water helped us greatly. It prevented us from suffering dehydration, while those, who did not know the importance of taking lots of water, became victims,” he noted.

After completing the first round of throwing pebbles at the Satan, Shuiab and his friends made a u-turn, taking the opposite route back home. However, those who were in a haste crossed to the side, obstructing pilgrims going towards the Jamaraat; that was where the whole trouble began.

“It was like somebody walking against one-way. Some of them wanted to take a short cut back home, others were eager to return to their tent, especially those in Tent “A”, which was located very close to the Jamaraat. But there were some, who were eager to shop on their way to Jamaraat among others. At the end, the whole place was crowded,” he said.

Shuaib and his friends could have been victims of the stampede, had they joined the bandwagon of those taking short cut. In fact, one of them actually suggested they take the wrong turn. Fortunately, majority declined and insisted on following the normal route back.

“It would have quickly taken us to our tent. Though our walk back was a long one and we were very tired, the good news was that we got to our tent safely and alive.”

Shuaib and his friends had settled in their tent when the news of the stampede filtered in.

“One of our brothers from the north, who got injured in the stampede, authoritatively informed us that he saw some of the Iranian pilgrims in their group walking against the route of those going to the Jamaraat.

“The action of those Iranian pilgrims,” he said, “was instrumental to the pushing and shoving that occurred at the spot where himself and his colleague were. Within some minutes, there was stampede and he found himself on the floor; while his colleague tried to raise him up, their hands slipped. The last thing he noticed, he said, was that he fainted due to exhaustion because he had not eaten and taken drink a day before.”

As far as the injured northern pilgrim was concerned, the Iranians, who took a wrong turn, caused the stampede.

“He was very emphatic that the Iranians should not have walked against the route of those going to the Jamaraat, especially when they were in groups. However, he took solace in the fact that Allah had decreed the time of the death of each person. And that if Allah had wished, He would have taken his own life during the stampede.”

For Shuaib, who is also the coordinator, Conference Of Islamic Organisations, Lagos State, 2015 Hajj disaster, though a tragic experience comes with some lessons.

The idea of trying to quickly go and come back from the Jamaraat is not peculiar to anybody; all the pilgrims usually have the same idea. So, we should be cautious and patient with one another. It is only the patient ones that will complete the rites. Though it may take a long time to do that, at the end of the day, one would have successfully completed the rites,” he said.

Self-discipline, according to Alhaji Shuaib, is an important virtue every pilgrim must imbibe.

“That will ensure that pilgrims don’t disobey the Saudi authorities, walk against the human-traffic, undermine the authority and rules put in place by either the host authority or the leaders of the delegations of the different countries in order to ensure a hitch-free Hajj.”

He, however, urged all countries to educate their pilgrims on the rules of Hajj.

“Each country should raise the awareness concerning the rigorous nature of some of the aspects of Hajj rites, especially the Jamaraat, Tawaf Ifadah and Sa’y of Tawaf Ifadah among others,” he said.


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