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Hujjaj must obey authorities: Sahuc

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The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) has issued its condolences to the families of more than 700 Muslims killed during a stampede in Mina on Thursday, on the third day of the annual hajj pilgrimage. At least 719 are said to have lost their lives and a further 863 reported to have been injured in the worst hajj-related tragedy in 25 years. Saudi Arabian authorities have since launched an investigation to uncover what sparked the incident, and why security measures were not able to prevent loss of life at a site that has developed an unfortunate reputation for poor safety; Thursday stampede being not the first to hit Mina.

Sahuc president, Shaheen Essop said that while there were several questions that need be asked as to the reasons for the tragedy, at the fore of these was whether pilgrims fully understood what was to take place during this particular leg of the hajj.

“If you are looking at hujaaj that are coming through from Muzdalifah, were they informed of any restrictions on pelting times, were they informed of any road closures, could they read the signs of the roads etc. There is a tremendous amount of information that still needs to be collated to form an opinion,” he said.

Essop’s own suspicions however, based on the timing and location of the incident was that all signs pointed to a possible non-adherence to Saudi authorities. Building on this, he questioned the processes of other countries and whether their respective hujaaj were being properly informed as to the protocol of the pilgrimage.

Further baffling has been that in light of prior tragedies Saudi authorities have this year reduced the international quota of international countries by 20%, and locally by 50%.

“You look at the facilities and the safety and security measures, and they (authorities) have done a very good job, especially in the change in the jamarat and the improvements that we’ve had there. Now this did not happen at the jamarat, but on one of the roads moving towards the jamarat, and that is where the problems actually occur,” he stressed.

The Muslim judicial Council (MJC SA) conveyed its heartfelt condolences to all the families affected by the tragedy.

“Whilst we feel aggrieved and are all deeply saddened by this tragedy during which more than 700 people died, we remind ourselves that we are from God Almighty and to Him we shall all return,” said Maulana Igsaan Hendricks.

“May the Almighty make it easy on those who have lost their loved ones and bless the pilgrims who tried to save as many as they could during this traumatic and horrifying experience. May the pilgrims continue with the Hajj in safety and with increased awareness that there is no guarantee that tomorrow will be.”

“The life of a Muslim and human being is sacred and therefore we pray that during this time where we all have been affected by  accidental death, that we reflect on the importance of making every effort to preserve life.”

Hendricks said it has been a challenging hajj for the Saudi Kingdom who have extended themselves to ensure that they provide the best service as the hosts of global nations who descend upon Makkah for the pilgrimage.

“The miraculously phenomenal task of hosting the largest congregation of nations at a single venue is appreciated and is certainly viewed as admirable despite the tragic challenges presented during this year.”

ITV presenter Faisal Patel, who is currently on hajj in the Kingdom, said that whilst the general mood amongst pilgrims was ‘solemn and sad’, everyone was going on with their rituals as per normal.

Based on statements coming from the Saudi Interior Ministry, Patel said it seemed as if the incident came about when pilgrims met at an intersection of two particular streets heading towards the pelting area of the jamarat.

“Apparently one group was coming out of that area onto that street, and another was going towards it and the two groups clashed. For some reason there was a massive push from behind, and it resulting in this tragedy,” he explained.

Patel noted that as per security regulations, there were designated signs in Mina highlighting when and where certain groups could go about the ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual so as to avoid any congestion.

“Apparently they did not follow rules and regulations, which is one of the reasons for the tragedy. Some have also blamed it on the heat exhaustion. A lot of the pilgrims would have been tired and fatigued by the heat, and would have wanted to get the ritual over as soon as possible,” he suggested.

An investigation is on-going into the stampede. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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