SHAFAQNA – As Muslims around the world are attempting to make sense of the tragedy which befall their community, at a time when all should be rejoicing in the festivities of Eid Al Adha, calls have risen against Saudi Arabia and what the public is already calling criminal negligence.
World leaders have now come out demanding that reparations be made and change imposed in order to ensure that no such tragedy could happen again.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the Saudi government for the disaster. In a statement, he said: “The Saudi government should accept its responsibility in this bitter incident. We should not overlook that mismanagement and inappropriate conducts caused this disaster.”
The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, who leads the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said “there must be improvements in the management of the hajj so that this incident is not repeated”.
King Salman called for an improvement in the management of the pilgrimage, but some members of the Saudi government appeared to blame the victims. In a TV address, Salman said: “We have instructed concerned authorities to review the operations plan … \[and] to raise the level of organisation and management to ensure that the guests of God perform their rituals in comfort and ease.”
Saudi officials have denied reports that the stampede was linked to the arrival in Mina of Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud and his large security entourage.Reports first published by the the Arabic-language daily al-Diyar said the prince arrived at Mina for a meeting with his father the king accompanied by 350 members of the security forces. It said the stampede occurred when the one-way traffic directions were reversed to allow the prince’s convoy to get through.
Saudi Arabia said the report was “incorrect”.
Mohammed Jafari, an adviser to Haj and Umrah Travel, the first hajj tour operator in the UK, claimed the alleged road closures were a contributory factor to the crush.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “The Saudis say after every disaster ‘it is God’s will’. It is not God’s will – it is man’s incompetence. Talking to pilgrims on the ground yesterday, the main reason for this accident was that the king, in his palace in Mina, was receiving dignitaries and for this reason they closed two entrances to where the stoning happened … these were the two roads where people were not able to proceed.
“You have a stream of people going in and if you stop that stream, and the population builds up, eventually there is going to be an accident.
“It is the fault of the Saudi government because any time a prince comes along, they close the roads, they don’t think about the disaster waiting to happen.”
Jafari called on the British government to use its influence with the Saudis to improve safety at the pilgrimage. He said: “They have to change their ways and have proper disaster planning and proper crisis management. They have CCTV and in this investigation they should look at the CCTV footage. If someone caused this accident, they should be fired. There should be a proper investigation, a criminal investigation.”
Liaqat Hussain, a trustee at Bradford central mosque who has been on the hajj, said: “There is total lack of crowd management.”
He told Good Morning Britain that there was no proper guidance and no proper directions for the people there. Hussain said there needed to be improvements and that the British government should set up an inquiry into the incident.
The Saudi health minister, Khalid al-Falih, claimed the pilgrims had been undisciplined. He told local television: “The accident, as most know, was a stampede caused by overcrowding, and also caused by some of the pilgrims not following the movement instructions of the security and hajj ministry.”
High temperatures and exhaustion may have contributed to the disaster, the military spokesman Maj Gen Mansour al-Turki said, but he said there was no indication the authorities were to blame. He was quoted by Associated Press as saying: “Unfortunately, these incidents happen in a moment.”
Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the head of Saudi Arabia’s central hajj committee, was criticised on social media after reportedly blaming the fatal crush on “some pilgrims with African nationalities”. Jafari accused the Saudi government of making racist statements by suggesting that the stampede was caused by African pilgrims.
An interior ministry spokesman said the investigation would look into what caused an unusual mass of pilgrims to congregate at the location of the disaster. He told a press conference in Mina: “The reason for that is not known yet.”
Pope Francis touched on the pain felt in the Islamic world during his address to both houses of the US Congress on Thursday evening. He began his homily by telling his “Muslim brothers and sisters” that they were assured of his prayers for “the tragedy they have suffered at Mecca”.