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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 January 2006, 15:38 GMT
Hajj deaths dismay Arab press
Arabic Press

The Arab press in the Middle East has reacted with horror to the deaths of hundreds of pilgrims, crushed during the stone-throwing ritual at the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Papers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere called for better organisation of the ritual and for religious rulings to ensure there are no repeats.


The task [of simplifying the Hajj rituals] is not an easy one if Muslim scholars do not meet to search for ways to facilitate these ceremonies in accordance with Islamic rules that do not contradict the duty of the Hajj.


We must have religious, engineering, administrative and planning discussions to banish the spectre of death and murder from the stone-throwing site, because we are now in range of the cameras of TV satellite channels and the international media networks.


All signs indicate that the main reason for the occasional regrettable and tragic events is the lack of awareness, the non-observance of regulations and the insistence on violations. This is the trinity that should be dealt with severely by the relevant government departments, because leniency and indifference may lead to dangerous and painful results.


The terrible truth, which we should face, is that the pilgrims came from cultures which - with great regret - cannot organise themselves. They have come from cultures which do not recognise queues, therefore we shall remain mere human waves, the last of which kills the first in a stampede... If the bridge is going to become a nightmare every year, then demolish it and leave in its place virgin land as it used to be... With every large or small gathering we prove to the world that we have a culture of chaos and impetuosity.


It is high time that we took more resolute measures to prevent the Hajj from becoming an annual season of danger, and all the Islamic countries should shoulder their responsibilities for such measures far from narrow political and emotional dimensions.


These events are being repeated at every Hajj season and in a tragic manner, despite the improved preparations and arrangements, and this is a matter which requires examination of all aspects of this worrying phenomenon and the adoption of early precautions to ensure they are not repeated. Because, in addition to the death of the victims, the image of Muslims is shaken and we seem to be incapable of organising the performance of our religious rites. The matter may therefore require a re-examination of the preparations and a reconsideration of some religious interpretations and fatwas that shorten the performance of the stone-throwing as such to a brief period at noon, a matter which leads to shoving.


It should be said here that we are not prepared as a nation to pay with more victims for the pilgrims' "sake". More importantly, the responsibility for organising the shrines for the Hajj ceremonies is not the responsibility of sisterly Saudi Arabia alone... because the Hajj and the Holy Sites belong to all Muslims and their organisation is the responsibility of the Muslim nation. It would be a disgrace if Saudi Arabia had to appeal for Arab and Islamic expertise to avoid the occurrence of more carnage.


Once more we are bereaved by hundreds of Muslims falling dead there at the Bridge of Jamarat in Mina during the Hajj season when numerous people believed that the repetition of the situation would be limited after the nation's religious scholars, particularly in Saudi Arabia, issued fatwas allowing the stoning to take place at any time of the day instead of restricting it to noon time... The continued occurrence of these tragedies at noon time "at the time for the midday call to prayer" is attributed to the insistence of some pilgrims, mostly from Pakistan, India and Indonesia, to perform this rite according to the instructions they have received from their religious scholars before the issuing of the fatwas allowing [stoning at any time of day].


Millions have gone to perform the Hajj in the holy land. Among the rites or worship required of them is to throw stones, more correctly to stone Satan. However, it seems that Satan has been more cunning this year and managed to respond to them. Shoving took place and hundreds of them fell dead or injured... It thus becomes clear to us that rotten education, ignorance and not valuing human beings are the main entrance through which Satan has managed to be more cunning than all these multitudes and struck them unexpectedly, leaving dead and injured among them.


There is no question that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia possesses the material capabilities and the sense of responsibility to preserve the lives of God's guests among the pilgrims to the Kaaba for it to move quickly between now and the coming pilgrimage season to work to ensure - God willing - that the Mina catastrophe will not happen again. At the same time, I hope that the Muslim scholars, who are not performing their duties in enlightening the pilgrims, will shoulder their share in of the dangers and ruin the victims are exposed to.


I believe that the issue is multifaceted. Expanding the stone-throwing area and building new bridges will not radically solve the problem. A comprehensive study, in which there is no objection to the participation of some foreign expertise, is needed so that every year we are not surprised by the unexpected and continue to move inside the same vicious circle.


The deadly Hajj incidents spoil the happiness that all Muslims around the world expect during these blessed days and cause a choking in the souls and sadness and pain at the loss of such a number in a place where pilgrims seek tranquillity and safety... Such incidents are likely to recur each year... The expected recurrence in coming years is attributed to numerous causes which sow the seeds for such things, perhaps the most prominent of these is the pilgrim's feeling of fear as a psychological phenomenon at hearing any sound, particularly if it is from ambulances, convoys or fire engines.


I am stricken with the feeling of regret full of anger every time one of those incidents - which have become seasonal - happens and leaves behind a large number of dead and injured among the pilgrims... My regret or anger is not so much due to the number of the victims or the circumstances... In my view there is some kind of flaw in the understanding and religious meaning of the Hajj and its rites among a large numbers of Muslims.


We should benefit from major scientific development and use it to organise and monitor the movement of pilgrims. Computers, for example, can design a programme for that. They can also apply this programme irrespective of the number of pilgrims... By following this method, we will be able to save pilgrims' lives, because it makes no sense for hundreds of Muslims to die every year while performing the Hajj rites.

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