Friday, November 20, 2015

Haj 2015 - The Mina Stampede

We were all resting in the room that morning of the incident. We had completed our Nafar Awal by Dawn prayer's time, and I guess after breakfast, we went back to have a rest, and may be atch much needed sleep. We had slept sporadically in the last 24 hours - a couple of hours at Mudzalifah, most likely and that was it.

In bed, we were perhaps surfing or on Facebook when we heard the news about the stampede and the 700 odd pilgrims who died at Mina. Obviously we were a bit overwhelmed by the news of the tragedy, but we were nowhere Mina when it happened. In fact, we were all resting in the comfort of our room. After all, we had completed our Aqabah at midnight.
Taken from BVI News

As the tragedy unfold, we were reminded how this year's Haj had become the worst in term of tragedy, in the past 25 years, and it was not a record we would like to associate our haj with. But fate had it that we were here - never mind we were 8 km away.

And of course we were soon be bombarded with wassap messages about our well being.

I don't really know what transpired at Road 6 at Mina, but there were stories about how certain roads at Mina were closed  at that time due to the presence of a Saudi prince. I was not surprised; we were ourselves stopped just after the tunnel due to the presence of a convoy purportedly of the royal families. Fortunately it took about a couple of minutes, so there was no untoward incident.

But should it lasted a few more minute, bigger crowds would have built up, and we can only guess the consequences of such build up.

I believe that the Saudi police or mosque security should learn more about crowd control. For all the years of managing pilgrims over the past hundreds of years, they are somehow incompetent in my eyes. I am sorry to have to say this, but they should know better how to handle the Guests of Allah, and not treat the pilgrims with disdain!

(They should learn how Disney staff handle visitors at their park - with a lot of smiles, and enthusiasm, but at the Grand Mosque, the staff and security think of us as a chore; that we are disturbing their leisure time with their handphones.)

I put the responsibility of the Mina tragedy solely in the hand of the Saudi government, and nobody else. The pilgrims were not to be blamed.

Many times at the Grand Mosque, the mosque security cordoned off, or closed certain gate, which I took as for no reasons. Let me explained. We were at least 1 hour away from Maghrib prayer, and the whole of the Dataran infront of the Clock Tower were filled up to the brim with pilgrims. Even the mall has started to fill up.

I guess many pilgrims simply were reluctant to go inside the mosque for reasons best known to them. Lazy, tired, too far - whatever the reasons, they simply took up the space available in the open space between clock tower and say King Abdul Aziz gate.

Sp after managing to squeeze past through the sea of people, the security closed the door with escalator leading to the roof the mosque. We knew that the roof was empty - we can see it from our room. Puzzled as to why the door was blocked, many pilgrims including us, simply wait at the door, hoping that they will open it in due time.

The crowd started to build up. They have no else to go; the open space had been filled up to the brim. The security officer was instructing us - the crowd, but not knowing Arabic, they might as well talked to the wall.

The wall might listened.

After about 10 mins, the crowd had swell to a large one. 

And then they opened the door.

The crowd simply push forward. And many were squeezed in as the door has a limited space and the crowd gathered were much bigger than the door width. Many scrambled to get it. No matter what you said about not pushing, many were simply doing that. They would push, they would shove you aside in order for them to get ahead (of you). People were competing with each other to get the best spot; to be neared to Kaabah, or whatever the reasons may be.
Can you see that even at the peak of Haj, we have ample of space to pray? You may remember the Saudi Third Expansion. The floor space is enormous. Why on earth would they closed the doors leading to this rooftop area for it to become a free for all?

I can tell you that many were nearly trampled. If they can jump over somebody, they would do it.

It was sad to see us pilgrims resorting to this.

But the irony was when we reached the roof section (open air), there were as empty as it can be. Crowds hundreds of time bigger can be accommodated there without any problem. Even until isya prayer, one can still came up and have a luxury of space upstair.

The question is why the escalator door was closed in the first place? Who gave that order? Did it come with knowledge ie was there a CCTV showing the space at the top? Why later it was open? Paksu and I were puzzled. We could not comprehend it at all.

It seems that they were all done at the whim and fancy of somebody and without proper understanding of crowd control and herd mentality.

It was sad.

Many could have been crushed that evening,  but lucky nothing untoward happened. Otherwise I may not be here to relive the tale.

And to change topic, we tried to stay away from the crane and tried to project the path it would fall and move away from that path ;)

The Grand MOsque security people or the police have to be smart. First and foremost, language is a barrier. Not everybody can speak Arabic, and most of them can barely speak English.  Never mind that Arabic is the official language of Islam, but they are serving the Guests of Allah. Be humble and learn other languages so that the Grand Mosque can serve the pilgrims better.

It is not too much to ask. MOst of the time they were only chatting amongst themselves.

They can expect the pilgrims to be on best behaviour.  We come from many countries with different cultures and education.

Due to many incidents like this - near misses, if we can use that term, I strongly believe that the road at certain part of Mina were cordoned off for somebody high up there.

My kids's piano school owner once asked of me about the incident I told him how the crowd were asked to leave their saf since the King of Malaysia was visiting. And our Yang DiPertuan Agong was only about 4 saf away from us.

"I thought everyone is equal there?" Commander James asked me. He was curious.

"Well, commander, yes everybody was equal there."

"But I guess some are more equal than others!"

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