Saudis Turn Hajj Into A Death Trap For Pilgrims

Developing Just Leadership

Khadijah Ali

Dhu al-Hijjah 24, 1445 2024-07-01

News & Analysis

by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 5, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1445)

Image Source - Pixabay Free Content.

How many pilgrims died during the recently-concluded Hajj, we will never know. The Saudis are notorious for obfuscating numbers as well as showing extreme indifference to the well-being of pilgrims.

On June 23, the Saudi regime put the number of people who died at more than 1,300. “Regrettably, the number of mortalities reached 1,301, with 83 percent being unauthorised to perform Hajj and having walked long distances under direct sunlight, without adequate shelter or comfort,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Quoting an unnamed Saudi security source, the Middle East Eye (MEE) reported that the actual death toll might be three to four times higher than reported. He added that no official comment would be made on these numbers unless the deaths were due to an accident.

While some deaths occur every year during Hajj due to illness, accidents or old age, this year’s deaths have been attributed directly to Saudi negligence. Soaring temperatures and lack of shelter have been cited as reasons for the deaths. The Saudis have also blamed “unauthorized” pilgrims saying the majority of those who died were “unregistered”, mainly from Egypt.

No doubt, extreme temperatures were a major factor. Given the time of year—June—were the authorities unaware of this fact, or living in their air-conditioned offices and houses, they did not realize what it was like outside?

The issue of “unauthorized” pilgrims also needs proper examination. How did they end up in Saudi Arabia, regardless of where they came from?

In recent years, the Saudis have been issuing tourist visas in a bid to promote tourism. While theoretically such visitors are not allowed to perform Hajj, how and why they were allowed entry into Makkah for Hajj?

Surely, that was a decision made by the Saudi authorities. Entry into Makkah even for properly authorized and registered pilgrims is strictly controlled. Anyone who has performed Hajj knows that there are many control points where every pilgrim’s passport and visa are checked.

Prior to Hajj, the Saudi regime announced that its security forces had removed more than 390,000 unregistered individuals from Makkah. The vast majority were Egyptians.

Quoting an Egyptian Hajj mission official, the MEE reported that Saudi security forces launched an unprecedented crackdown in Makkah in the days leading up to Arafah Day on June 15 (the day of Hajj). The aim, ostensibly was to remove all individuals without Hajj permits.

The Saudi regime had issued a Hajj badge, called the Nusuk Card, to every registered pilgrim. This is an identification card that allows pilgrims access to all sacred sites and services. It must be carried throughout the Hajj period from arrival to departure.

Trying to catch up with the twenty-first century, the Saudis decided to go electronic. The Hajj badge was supposed to be the regime’s ultimate control mechanism during Hajj. It contained information about the person’s health record, place of accommodation during Hajj and contact information of their group’s leader. Even grocery stores and restaurants were required to see it before providing services.

The Saudis are control freaks but any action that facilitates the well-being of pilgrims should be welcomed. However, what is the use of the badge if its enforcement is abandoned by the Saudi authorities themselves?

There were large scale arrests of unauthorized pilgrims who were expelled from Makkah a week prior to Hajj. However, a day before Hajj, this policy was abandoned and all unregistered people were allowed entry into Makkah. Who made this decision and why?

To understand its impact on Hajj services, consider this. All registered pilgrims are provided transportation from Makkah to Mina and onwards to Arafat. The pilgrims pay for these services in advance through their Hajj operators.

The Saudis have built air-conditioned trains from Makkah to Mina and from Mina to Arafat to transport pilgrims. From Mina to Arafat, buses are also used for the 18 km journey.

With some 400,000 “unregistered” pilgrims that were suddenly allowed into Makkah, the Saudis had no plans for how to transport these additional pilgrims. They were left to fend for themselves. Even many properly registered pilgrims who had paid in advance for all the services, were denied transportation from Mina to Arafat.

With temperatures reaching 51 degrees Celsius, and no shade or water along the 15 km route from Mina to Arafat, many pilgrims had to walk. They collapsed under the scorching heat and died of heat stroke. Others died in Mina after spending the day in Arafat.

Eyewitnesses have recounted horrible tales of Saudi callousness. For instance, “unregistered” pilgrims were barred from the air-conditioned train stations in Mina, according to social media accounts. The Saudis did not want people to take shelter there. Pilgrims would create mess in these “nice” train stations! That was more important than preventing them from dying.

Whenever pilgrims approached the Saudi security personnel or ambulance workers to help their loved ones who had collapsed due to heat, the Saudis just shrugged their shoulders and walked away.

Was this a deliberate Saudi policy to punish the unregistered pilgrims? One cannot help but draw this conclusion, given the very high number of deaths.

This brings us to the question of the administration of the affairs of Hajj and the fundamental duty of Muslims during this sacred obligation. For decades, Crescent International has said that the Saudis are unfit to administer the affairs of Hajj. The almost annual disasters that afflict pilgrims is proof of Saudi incompetence compounded by their callousness.

An even more fundamental issue is the Qur’anic obligation of pilgrims to proclaim their dissociation from the mushrikeen at the time of Hajj (Surah Al-Tawbah [9]: ayat 1-12).

At a press conference on June 6, the Saudi Minister of Hajj, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said that “Hajj is for worship, not for any political slogans.” This was a clear attempt to bar Muslims from expressing anguish over the plight of Palestinians in Ghazzah and their condemnation of the dhulm being perpetrated by the zionists and imperialists.

The Saudi minister went on to say that the regime wants to ensure “that Hajj truly embodies the highest levels of devotion, tranquility, and spirituality.” For decades, the Saudis have denounced spirituality as bid‘ah. So, it is no longer bid‘ah?

But we are forced to ask, is the Saudi minister unaware of Allah’s command in Surah al-Tawbah, or the Saudis follow a different Qur’an, astaghfirullah? They are more concerned about not offending their real masters—the zionists and imperialists—than following the commands of Allah.

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