February 1, 2004: A peaceful procession turns into a stampede during a Hajj pilgrimage. The Hajj is a journey to Mecca (Makkah) and is the Fifth Pillar of Islam. It is based, according to Islamic tradition, on Abraham’s following God’s directive (Ibrahim following Allah’s order) to leave Hagar and Ismael (wife and son) in the desert. While mother and son were alone, she needed water for the baby and the Well of Zamzam was miraculously revealed. In 632 Muhammed led his followers from Medina to Mecca. It is the only Hajj made by the prophet. He cleansed the Kaaba and sanctified the site.
Participating in the Hajj is the fifth duty of Muslims. The other four are a profession of faith, praying, giving alms, and fasting during Ramadan. The pilgrimage to Mecca is a spiritual journey. Most travel toward the holy city in groups. At a specific distance out, their clothing must be changed. The donning of the ihram (special unhemmed white sheets draped in a specific manner) shows equality before Allah. After putting on the ihram, certain behaviors must be avoided. The wearer may not shave, clip nails, use deodorant or perfume, swear or quarrel, kill any living thing, or engage in sexual activity.
The Hajj is not just a matter of showing up at Mecca. The journey can be performed at other times of the year, but is of lesser worth. A true Hajj is required and occurs from the 8th to the 12th days of Dhu al-Hijjah – the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Since it is a lunar based calendar the dates shift through the Gregorian months. The dates for 2009 will be November 25 through 29. The ritualized journey has several components with participants moving from one holy area to the next with a variety of prayerful activities required.
About 500,000 Meccans are joined by another 2.5 million faithful for the Hajj. It has become critical to maintain order and crowd control has become an issue. In 2004, ≈ 2.25 million people were present. Part of the journey is the stoning ritual in Mina. The ritual illustrates the stoning of the Devil. During this rite, 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 were injured during a stampede. There have been several incidents causing hundreds of deaths. In 1990, 1,426 were killed in one stampede. The Saudi government is trying to maintain order.
Be peaceful, orderly and kind. No crushing. – from the Ministry of the Hajj
But there is also an enthusiasm factor. Stoning the pillars is the last rite of Hajj, and throwing the stones can be a physical release. People really want to get into it. – Michael Wolfe
The (number) of forces taking part in security in the Hajj this year is around 60,000. – Abdul Aziz
I feel very sorry for those people who died, but at the same time, it does not deter me from going on Hajj. – Ahmed Kamal
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