The death toll has now risen to a catastrophic 717 people dead, with at least 800 injured. The stampede started when more than a million pilgrims were attending the last rite of the Hajj.
The tragedy happened when two huge groups of pilgrims, preparing for their last major rite of their trip, met on an intersection, authorities have stated. According to various reports, there was a “sudden increase” in the number of pilgrims that were heading towards the pillars. It added that this, “resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them”.
The pillars are an important part of the last major rite of the Hajj. The ritual consists of the crowd throwing stones at three large pillars, in a re-enactment of an event when the Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations, according to Muslim belief. The Saudi government erected the three massive pillars, costing a shocking $1.2 billion and a five-story bridge nearby, where pilgrims can throw the stones. It was meant to serve as a roomier and more efficient way to practice this ritual.
According to the BBC, hundreds of wounded people have been taken to four hospitals in the area. Videos and photographs have been flooding different social media platforms, depicting the devastation of the stampede and dozens of bodies on the groups.
The bodies of the dead were all dressed in simple white garments, the traditional clothing worn during the Hajj. The deadly stampede left crushed bodies and injured survivors in a chaotic pile on the street, with little or no protection from the blazing sun and heat.
The civil defence directorate reported that the victims of the stampede were of “different nationalities”, however, no other details were given.
Officials have also stated that 4,000 workers and 220 ambulances along with other vehicles are been dispatched to the disaster area.
This devastating news comes not long after a crane that collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque earlier this month, killed 109 people and injuring some 400 others. This is after the saudi officials has issued a series of safety improvements.
This is the deadliest disaster at the Hajj since the tragedy in 1990.There have been previous stampedes during the hajj on at least six previous occasions, including the a stampede in 2006, during the stoning of the devil at Mina, leaving 364 pilgrims dead. Whilst only last week, more than 1,000 people on a pilgrimage were evacuated from a hotel in Mecca due to a fire that broke out in the early hours of the morning.
Every year, millions of people make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This sacred act is called Hajj. Every Muslim is expected to make the journey at least once in their lifetime, if they are able to.
A explanation of what happens at the Hajj;
- People wear simple white clothing – Ihram. Social status is forgotten, everyone is equal.
- Pilgrims make their way to Masjid al-Haram Mosque and walk around the Kaaba seven times, repeating prayers. This is called Tawaf. They then sip from holy water from the sacred Zamzam well.
- Pilgrims then walk between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times, completing the Umra part of the Hajj.
- Then its time to travel to Mina on the eighth of the month that the Hajj takes place. They then remain there until dawn the next morning.
- People travel to the valley of Arafat and stand in the open praising God. Then at the end of day, they travel to Muzalifa for the night.
- Pilgrims gather 49 or 70 small stones to use the next day. In the morning they return to Mina and throw stones at the three pillars that represent the devil.
- A lamb or sheep is slaughtered and the meat is given to the poor. Then men’s heads are shaved and women cut a lock of their hair.
- Pilgrims then return to Mecca. Then back to Mina for three or four days, stoning the pillars each day.
- Finally pilgrims say a farewell Tawaf in the Great Mosque at Mecca on the 12th day of the Hajj, and ask for forgiveness for past sins. They offer more prayers, and the Hajj is finished.