The Hajj – the pilgrimage that every Muslim must undertake once in his/her lifetime if they have the means – has again come on the news, and not for good reasons. Over 700 people lost their lives and a reported 800 people were injured during the stampede that occurred during the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina, some 2 miles away from Mecca where the main pilgrimage takes place.
Some pilgrims have mentioned the fact that not sufficient time was allocated to perform all the rituals. This is not the first time that the Hajj has been beset by tragedy. When 250 pilgrims lost their lives two years ago during another stampede, Saudi authorities heeded the call for more safety measures to be put in place.
Ramps and walkways to the Al-Jamarat site have been widened; the obelisks at which stones were thrown have been rebuilt as stone walls to provide people with larger areas and therefore more safety, and at this year’s Hajj, over 60,000 security personnel were present. Still, it would appear that the Saudi authorities need to do more, and especially when declarations are concerned.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Prince Khaled al-Faisal declared on al-Arabiya TV that the stampede was caused by “some pilgrims with African nationalities”. On social media, Africans are raising their voices to condemn the somewhat racist declaration of Prince Faisal. Many Africans have always felt undermined by Arabs and those who have been speak negatively of the attitude of the Saudi people, and the government, towards them.
In 2013, after a visa raid, an Ethiopian man was found dead in a Saudi police cell, prompting thousands of African migrants to gather in the capital city of Riyadh to demand repatriation. At the time, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Tedros Adhanom complained, qualifying the situation as “unacceptable” and demanding that the Saudi authorities investigate.
Whether there was an investigation or not, no one knows but for Prince Faisal, the head of the central Hajj committee, to utter such a declaration, it beggars belief. For it would seem like finger pointing instead of turning to his committee to analyse what really went wrong.
No African head of State has yet complained about the declaration of Prince Faisal, and amidst the anger of social media, some voices are wondering if, since this is not the first time that pilgrims have died in what should be a pious, humbling and joyous occasion, should the Saudi authorities not decide to limit the number of candidates to pilgrimage?