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Jakarta Post

Should we blame Saudi Arabia for the latest Mina incident?

  • Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat

    The Jakarta Post

London   /   Tue, September 29, 2015   /  04:40 pm

More than 760 Muslim pilgrims of various ages, including at least 34 Indonesians, were killed last week in what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most tragic accidents to have occurred during the annual haj.

I pray that the deceased will be accepted to the highest level of Paradise and I also pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured in the stampede.

It was reported by Saudi Arabia'€™s Al Arabiya news channel that the stampede broke out at the entrance of the Jamarrat Bridge near Street 204, as pilgrims were on their way to perform one of their last major haj rites, the symbolic jumrah or the stoning of the devil.

This, however, is not the only incident that took place this year. A few weeks ago, a huge crane collapsed onto the Grand Mosque resulting in the deaths of 118 worshippers, including 11 Indonesians.

As was widely reported, storms battered the colossal metal rig, causing it to break and fall to the ground with devastating consequences. Some have made the point that had this occurred after the haj had commenced the number of fatalities would have been much greater.

Following the stampede in Mina, many have questioned what the main causes of the accident were, and who was responsible. Some are putting the blame on the Saudi government, saying that it has not done enough to prevent such tragedies from happening.

Others, however, have suggested it was caused by pilgrims'€™ lack of discipline, who were too passionate about completing the ritual, and did not pay attention to the procedures.

The fact is there are many parties at fault in this incident. It may sound controversial, but I believe that the Saudi government should not be the only entity held responsible for the stampede and the crane collapse.

Even though it has been widely and understandably criticized, it cannot be denied that in the past years Saudi Arabia has tried to improve infrastructure for the safety and convenience of pilgrims during the haj.

These efforts have included construction of a wider, multilevel bridge, and replacement of the pillars representing Satan during the jumrah ritual, with the hope that this would minimize the risk of a stampede.

However, as Thursday'€™s incident has revealed, these measures were not enough.

Reflecting on the tragedy, I believe that both the holy cities of Mecca, where the haj takes place, and Medina, where the tomb of Prophet Muhammad is located, do not solely belong to Saudi Arabia, but Muslims all around the world. I agree with British-Algerian journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha who said in a recent op-ed that the two cities need to come under an independent body headed by a Muslim-majority state.

The management of the two sacred cities should no longer be entrusted exclusively to the Saudi royal family. The governments of other Muslim-majority nations must be involved also.

The revenues from the pilgrimage will cover the expenses of the development, as well as the maintenance of the cities, and come under a regular review of an international independent entity to make sure spending is available for public scrutiny.

Leaders from across Muslim-majority countries must create a genuine and robust board and they have to agree to crucial changes to the cities and rules governing the observance of the haj.

The body will be required to appoint a leader who will change every few years and will be responsible for the supervision of the two sacred cities.

I understand that something like this will not be realized anytime soon. For now, a more immediate solution needs to be found, such as reducing the number of pilgrims significantly to ease the current overcrowded conditions.

A firm code of conduct must also be applied on worshipers traveling to those cities and individual countries need to ensure that their pilgrims comply with safety rules.

On the part of the pilgrims, Muslims need to understand that completing the haj only once in a lifetime is all that is required, and that any additional pilgrimage only infringes on someone else'€™s chance to perform it.

It is also the duty of pilgrims to reciprocate the measures taken so far by abiding by the rules and regulations at the holy sites to avoid such incidents from recurring.

The writer is a PhD researcher at the School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.

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