Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

I still remember it as if it was yesterday: my wife and I were on our way back from the ritual “stoning of the Devil” during our pilgrimage in 2003. It was very, very crowded, and people were everywhere going in each and every direction. Literally thousands were trying to get out at the same time as others were trying to get in. Then, it happened: my wife lost her footing and fell on me. I mustered all the strength I had to keep us from falling down.

Thank God, we did not fall, and we were saved from a certain death. Yet, on that very same day, there were other pilgrims who were not as fortunate. Unless you have been there, it is really hard to imagine how many people are at the Hajj. The pictures simply do not do it justice.

Although authorities are still investigating the cause, I can totally understand how a stampede can occur. Only one person has to panic to cause a devastating chain reaction. It is actually a blessing that a major stampede does not occur every year. Yet, sadly, these sort of things do occur, and my heart and prayers go out to the families of the victims who are now dealing with the terrible pain of the loss of their loved ones.

Although I do understand that it is very difficult, if not totally impossible, to totally control a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people all converging on one place, I also do agree with some of the criticism that authorities should do more to protect the crowds:

These pilgrims are God’s guests, and as “Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques,” pilgrim safety should be absolutely top priority. It should be treated as an airline flight, where every effort is exerted to make sure passengers arrive to their destination safely and soundly.

And that should include “loosening” some of the rules with regards some of the rituals. For example, there are some scholars who insist that the stoning can only be done at a certain time of day. Consequently, there are huge crowds that then show up at the stoning area at that time. Why can’t scholars, in the interest of the preservation of life – which is paramount in Islam – come together and decree that the stoning ritual can occur throughout the day and night?

Look at what an Arab pilgrim told Reuters:

An Arab pilgrim who did not want to give his name said he had hoped to perform the stoning ritual later on Thursday afternoon but was now too frightened to risk doing so.

“I am very tired already and after this I can’t go. I will wait for the night and if it not resolved, I will see if maybe somebody else can do it on my behalf,” he said.

No one should be afraid to perform this ritual, which is so spiritually powerful. It re-enacts the time when the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) stoned Satan after he tried to dissuade him from sacrificing his son. I pray that Saudi Authorities can learn from this incident and do all that they can to prevent such a disaster from happening again. And I pray the Lord comforts all those in pain after this terrible incident.

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