Saudi authorities are being blamed for the horrific human stampede last week during the Muslim hajj that killed 769 people and injured several hundred others. It’s the worst of several similar tragedies to occur with that annual religious pilgrimage in the last 25 years. Only days before, a construction crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Islam's holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners.
It happened as the world's 1.5 billion Muslims marked Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar. Officials say that 1,952,817 pilgrims, most of them from abroad, were there.
Iranian authorities, who said that 131 of its nationals were among the victims, are especially upset with the Saudi’s claiming that they are responsible for the disaster despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on hajj safety measures. They’re demanding that affected countries have a role in the investigation into the cause.
The stampede broke out in Mina, about three miles from Mecca, during the symbolic "stoning of the devil" ritual. Two massive moving crowds of worshipers were converging on Mina's Jamarat Bridge to throw pebbles at the holy shrine. The stoning bridge was erected in the past decade at a cost of more than $1billion and was intended to improve safety after several similar past disasters.
The two crowd’s collided violently leaving the hapless victims with nowhere to escape being trampled in the melee. Witnesses said pilgrims died with arms draped around each other. "There was no room to maneuver," said one eye witness.
"I can blame the Saudi government because they did not control (the situation). I was there. I survived," said a Kenyan survivor who was part of a group which lost three people. But Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih faulted worshippers themselves, saying that if "the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided".
Other pilgrims blamed road closures and poor management of the flow of hundreds of thousands of worshipers running together en mass in the hot temperatures. "People were stumbling, falling, trying to get up. They were dehydrated, getting disorientated; they were dying in front of our eyes," observed a South African businessman. "The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims," said a Saudi Interior ministry spokesman
"There's no crowd control," declared a spokesman for the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. The police were not properly trained and lacked the language skills for communicating with foreigners.
Of course, there is no doubt what-so-ever that this terrible disaster was caused by human fallibility and systemic incompetence. Yet, even so; here there were almost 2 million people converging upon the holiest of Muslim places to worship their all powerful God. Surely if that God exists as an entity within the cognitive contextual reality of existence, instead of merely as a consciously created conceptual abstraction in the minds of the worshipers, He might have interceded in some fashion to avert the horrible tragedy.
But amidst all the blaming and finger pointing, no one apparently bothers to ask the obvious compelling question:
Where was God?