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Pilgrims long to see Mecca and die

The death of 251 Muslims in a stampede shocked no one, with many pilgrims certain that those who die here enter paradise.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2004 16:05 IST
Taieb Mahjoub (Agence France-Presse)
Taieb Mahjoub (Agence France-Presse)

The death of 251 Muslims in a stampede shocked no one, with many pilgrims certain that those who die on the hajj enter paradise and the Saudi authorities pointing to the 'will of God'.

"I wish I was among the pilgrims who died on Sunday," Kamal Shahada, an Egyptian pilgrim, told AFP.

"I would have gone to heaven, because dying in these holy sites of Islam would assure one a place in heaven," he said, echoing a widespread conviction in the Islamic world.

Libyan Mohammad Taylamun agreed totally.

"The two million faithful who gathered every year at the holy sites for the pilgrimage hope to have the honour of being buried in this sacred soil," he said after casting stones at the symbols of Satan.

It was in this arid valley outside Mecca where 251 died trampled under foot on Sunday as they battled to carry out the final major ritual of the annual hajj.

The scale of the tragedy which cast a shadow over the hajj certainly provoked compassion among the gathering, but fatalism predominates among 'the guests of God'.

That fatalism was abundantly evident on Monday as hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims flocked again from dawn to the dangerous esplanade to 'stone Satan'.

The high-risk ritual, which has produced a trail of carnage over the years, was to continue Tuesday for a third and final day.

Even reports of another minor stampede on Monday failed to quell the fervour of the faithful.

"Those who died will be missed by their families and friends but they have a chance no one else can have by dying on the holy land of Islam where they are then buried," said a Bangladeshi who refused to be named.
And it has always been so.

"When our ancestors left for the pilgrimage to Mecca they bid farewell to their friends and set off by camel or boat for a journey who often lasted several months each way," said Abdullah Mohammad, a Senegalese.
"The death of a pilgrim, which would be known only when the caravan returned, was met with respect and piety because of the honour accorded to he who ended his days in Mecca and the holy sites in Saudi Arabia," he said.

Last year 14 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the first day of the stoning ritual and 35 in 2001, while the 1998 hajj saw 118 killed and more than 180 hurt at the pillars.

The worst hajj disaster struck in July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were trampled or asphyxiated to death in a tunnel in Mina. Numerous other deaths have been caused by fires in the pilgrims' camps.

But such is the demand to join the pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam and a duty for every Muslim with the financial and physical wherewithal to carry it out, that the Saudi authorities impose a strict quota system.

First Published: Feb 03, 2004 16:05 IST