A stampede has occurred in Saudi Arabia today during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season (the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) killing more than 717 people and injuring 805 others. The stampede occurred during the ritual widely referred to as “Stoning the devil’ in the tent city of Mina –about 2 miles from Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. While hundreds have been killed in past years during the same ceremony, today’s tragic events come less than two weeks after a crane collapse killing more than a hundred people at another of Islam’s holy sites, the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
In the ritual, pilgrims throw stones at three pillars in a reenactment of Muslim traditions when Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations. During the stampede, pilgrims were making their way towards the largest of the pillars at about 9 a.m. local time when there was a sudden surge in the crowd causing a large number of people to fall, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. However, information on what exactly led to the surge was not immediately available.
Today’s ceremony was at the scene of previous stampedes which resulted in hundreds of deaths in the 1980s and 1990s as pilgrims made their way past a crowded bottleneck area leading to the small pillars on the ground. In fact, a 2006 stampede at the same location resulted in the deaths of at least 363 people forcing the Saudi government to erect three massive pillars as well as completing a $1.2 billion, five-storey bridge where pilgrims could toss stones from. This was meant to provide a roomier atmosphere and a more efficient way of accommodating the faithful who make this annual pilgrimage.
The stoning ritual is performed over the course of two days, where pilgrims stone the three pillars at Mina, a location believed to be where Abraham stoned the devil when the latter tried to dissuade him from obeying God’s orders to slaughter his son. According to tradition, this was a test from God and when Abraham passed the test, he was instead given a ram to slaughter.
Today was the third day of the Hajj season. On September 11, just days before the commencement of the Hajj, a construction crane crashed through the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca (another eminent Hajj destination) killing 107 people and injuring 238 others when a powerful storm topple the crane.
Many devout Muslims consider losing one’s life during the Hajj season as a direct entry to heaven.