Over 700 people have been killed while another 800 were injured in Saudi Arabia, as a stampede caused major destruction during an Islamic ritual.
The stampede took place on Thursday morning in the tent city of Mina, about two miles from the holy city of Mecca, during one of the final rituals of the Hajj season. The ritual known as “stoning the devil” was taking place when the stampede occurred.
The Hajj season is better known as the “pilgrimage to Mecca”. According to the law of Islam, every Muslim who is physically and financially able must travel to Mecca at some point during their lifetime.
In the past, hundreds of Muslims have been killed in the same ceremony. The tragedy comes just 13 days following a crane collapse that took the lives of over 100 people at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. A powerful storm was the cause of the collapse.
So far, the latest death count is over 700, and numbers are continuing to increase. Officials working on the situation have deployed 4,000 workers and 220 ambulances.
During the “stoning of the devil”, pilgrims throw stones towards three pillars in order to re-enact when the Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations. The event is a significant part of Muslim tradition.
The stampede occurred as the Muslims were approaching the largest pillar. There was a sudden surge in the crowd, resulting in a great number of individuals falling and being trampled. It is unknown what caused the surge.
Despite the disaster, many Muslim pilgrims are still attempting to reach the pillars and complete their religious duties. Witnesses say that they have seen medical personnel removing the bodies of the victims from the scene.
The ceremony has proven to be dangerous in the past, as the pilgrims are required to pass through a bottleneck area that is particularly crowded. Hundreds of deaths occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2006, a stampede killed 363 people.
In recent years, the government of Saudi Arabia tried to remedy the situation by building a $1.2 billion project, including three giant pillars and a five-story-tall bridge for the Pilgrims to safely toss stones. The idea was that it was a roomier atmosphere that would prevent future incidents of trampling. However, with the latest disaster, that has not proven to be the case.
The stoning ritual lasts more than two days. Pilgrims stone the pillars in Mina, which is thought to be the same place where the Muslim devil was stoned as he attempted to prevent Abraham from listening to the orders of God. Muslim tradition says that this was a test from God.
According to Muslim lore, losing one’s life during the Hajj season is considered to be a direct entry into heaven. Thursday was the third day of the Hajj season.
Over two million Muslims from across the globe make the Hajj pilgrimage every year. For many Muslims, the trip is the spiritual climax of their lives. Many devoted Muslims save money for decades for the opportunity to make the journey. The pilgrimage is conducted over five days.
Muslims in Yemen also experienced a tragedy of their own on Thursday, as 29 people attending Eid prayers were killed after a bomb was set off in a crowded mosque in Sanaa.