It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches God; it is your devotion that reaches Him . . . ~ Al-Hajj 22:37 (Qur’an)
Tragically, once again, the Hajj resulted in a stampede, causing deaths of many pilgrims; this time, more than 1,400, and numerous others injured. And once again, many Muslims accepted the calamity as "taqdeer," or the predestined will of God, and proclaimed the dead as martyrs.
Yet, following the day of Hajj, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid-ul-Adha, commemorating Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice in the cause of God. However, could any ritual be justified or be a cause to celebrate after the death of so many innocent people?
Each year, Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca to perform the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage. This year, a record number of pilgrims, 3 million, turned out.
Although the Saudi king has ordered an investigation, this is not the first time that the Hajj has resulted in a tragedy. Over the past two decades, thousands of pilgrims have lost their lives. As in the past, the underlying causes are believed to be improper organization by the Saudi authorities, overcrowding, heat and the rushing of the rituals to complete the Hajj.
And the timing of the current accident could not be worse. Just last month, 107 people lost their lives and 238 suffered injuries when a powerful storm toppled a crane into the Grand Mosque. These back-to-back disasters call for an objective evaluation of the way the pilgrimages are being handled.
The economics of Hajj for the Saudi Kingdom work differently than a normal business does. In a regular business, if customers suffer injuries or deaths, the business faces backlash and economic losses. In the case of the Hajj, the kingdom is very well aware that an increased number of pilgrims will turn out each year due to population growth and their religious devotion. There will be no boycott of the Hajj. Some sources estimate that the Saudi Kingdom makes nearly $10 billion or more from the annual event. The pilgrims spend on housing, food, gifts and much more.
What can be done to prevent the repetitive Hajj casualties? Three things:
- The Saudi authority must treat the annual Hajj as a moral responsibility, rather than merely as a business. It must take all necessary precautions to prevent the loss of lives. Since Hajj is only mandatory once in a lifetime, the Saudi government must place stricter quotas against those who have recently performed Hajj.
Moreover, despite already having spent millions on structure, the kingdom needs to make improvements in the safety, structure, communications and accommodations at the Kaaba, the most sacred pilgrim shrine.
- There must be shared responsibility. The United Nations must view the recurring loss of lives of pilgrims as a human-rights issue. The U.N. must conduct an investigation, since pilgrims from around the world become casualties.
And although Saudi Arabia is not a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. ought to pursue aggressive diplomatic measures and demand accountability. Also, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation ought to demand the Saudi government share the responsibility for organizing the annual pilgrimage.
- Muslims must reduce repeat pilgrimages. There are many individuals who boast about performing Hajj more than 30 times, when it is ordained only once in a lifetime. But they contribute to the overcrowding problem.
The deaths of the pilgrims may not be written off to destiny. "Taqdeer" is too often interpreted as a fatalistic concept where one has no control whatsoever over the outcome. However, the root word of "taqdeer" is "qadr" which means not only "to determine," but also, "a due measure," as in the universal laws; or "the ability to do," as in having potential.
Just as healthy habits can prevent sickness, so can sensible precautions avert accidents.
It is time for the Muslim community to not leave decisions to God, and certainly not to a king. It is time to take charge of its own destiny; to make the required sacrifices for a shared responsibility in protecting the pilgrims. Then there will be true cause to celebrate Eid.
Source: Orlando Sentinel