Ebrahim Moosa – Opinion | 23 Dhul Hijjah 1436/07 October 2015

Like a bewildering tsunami, its aftershocks have been felt in the distant corners of the world..

Describing the Hajj, Khalid Baig in his article, The Road from Makkah, writes:

“Its role is that of the heart and liver in the human body. The heart sucks in the tired blood, which is then filtered and rejuvenated by the liver, and sent again to all parts of the body by the heart. Similarly, Hajj brings in members of this Ummah, rejuvenates their faith, spiritual energy, and commitment, and sends them back to their communities to spread the blessings far and wide.”

If such is the scale of its positive spinoffs, it is no wonder then, when something tragic occurs at this international gathering, that its reverberations too reach every Muslim society on earth.

Preliminary reports of the Mina stampede depict how deeply the shockwaves have penetrated, this time round. Among the long list of nationalities which have reported deceased from the incident are Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Mali, India, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Algeria Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Senegal, Morocco and Turkey.

Word of the event dampened the festive spirit of Muslims when news first broke on Eid ul Adha. And since then it has been a rollercoaster of emotions for the global Muslim collective.

Feelings have vacillated between shock, horror, disbelief, sorrow, mourning, anger, and – most prominently – blame.

Authorities reportedly blamed pilgrims, some pilgrims blamed poor management, others blamed the scorching heat. In the wider cold war intensifying in the Middle East, nations have even blamed nations.

In this blameworthy climate, it may perhaps be a bit inconvenient to point out to all contesting parties that a element conspicuously absent in all our reactions, as an Ummah, to the tragedy, has arguably been an overall failure to suitably affirm the Qudrah(Over-arching Power/Capability) of Allah SWT.

Allow me to explain.

Prior to 2015, the last major tragedy to strike the Hajj was way back in 2006, when more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the Jamarah in Mina. The day before that hajj began, an eight-story building being used as a hostel near the Haram in Makkah also collapsed, killing at least 73 people.

In the wake of these and previous accidents, Saudi authorities accelerated key infrastructure projects that vastly expanded the capacity of the Holy Sites, especially within the tent city of Mina. Key among these interventions was the development of the multi-storey Jamarah bridge which was crafted to cater for upto 500 000 pilgrims per hour during the Hajj season and significantly decrease congestion.

In ensuing years, Hajj proceedings, and moreso those at the Jamarat in Mina, proceeded smoothly, void of any major incidents.

To augment the writer’s above mentioned argument, it is telling to contrast the official and public responses to successive ‘incident-free’ Hajj seasons since 2006, with the blame game being played in the wake of the tragedy today.

“If standing at Arafat represents the essence of the Haj,” reads a 2012 Saudi Gazette editorial, “Jamarat was, at one time, the yardstick by which the whole world measured the success or failure of Haj operations.”

“Until recently,” it continues, “the Jamarat posed the most formidable challenge, in terms of crowd control and organization, to the Saudi authorities involved at various levels of Haj operations. “

“Given the limited space and the number of pilgrims… stoning had always been the most dangerous part of the pilgrimage. But the construction of a five-story bridge at Jamarat has made all this a thing of the past. Human ingenuity and the willingness of the Saudi authorities to invest heavily to enhance the comfort and safety of pilgrims has made it possible for so many more pilgrims to take part  in the stone-throwing ritual without endangering each other.”

“In the past, panic sometimes ensued when a pilgrim fell on the bridge, and others tried to escape the push of the oncoming crowd. One tragedy occurred after pieces of luggage spilled from moving buses in front of one of the entrances to the bridge, causing pilgrims to trip. However, the expansion of the Jamarat bridge and newer and more efficient methods of crowd control  have all but eliminated the chances for such mishaps.”

A similar line is sounded in the paper’s 2014 piece: Haj a resounding success.

Quoting a senior official, the paper reported that “there was an unprecedented increase in the number of pilgrims who used the ground and fourth levels of the Jamarat but the crowd management mechanism worked welland that enabled pilgrims to perform their rituals safely and comfortably.”

Official news organs of the Muslim world likewise sang the praises of the huge infrastructure spend:

“The hi-tech Jamarat Bridge is another milestone of King Abdullah’s achievements in serving the pilgrims. The SR4.2 billion mammoth multilevel bridge was completed in 2009. The completion of the project, which allows pilgrims to hurl pebbles at pillars symbolizing Satan from all five levels of the bridge, has ensured a smooth and hassle-free stoning ritual that witnessed deadly stampedes in the past. The bridge, an architectural wonder, is 950 meters long and 80 meters wide, and each floor is 12 meters high. The entire project is designed to hold 12 stories and as many as 5 million pilgrims in the future if the need arises.” [All emphasis mine]

In its assessment of the 1435 Hajj season, the Arab News scorecard can only be described as unabashedly smug:

“Haj has never been so organized — from the trains that run on elevated tracks to the extremely helpful security forces on the ground and in the many helicopters that hover overhead informing the central operations command about possible bottlenecks.
Saudi Arabia has poured billions of riyals into infrastructure here at the holy sites. Most of these gigantic projects have been carried out in the last five years. They have helped ease the pilgrimage for the millions who come from the four corners of the world every year to perform the annual pilgrimage.”

And so, a clear pattern begins to emerge.

When all was hunky dory at the Hajj, the insinuation was that it was on account of human prowess, meticulous planning and ‘architectural wonders’ that the Hajj was ‘incident-free’.

But when tragedy struck, accusational fingers began to fly, and only then did we note the citing by the Ummah, of Divine intervention and destiny, as causal factors.

In the Qur’aan, Allah SWT is decisive in addressing such behavior.

‘Everything is from Allah’

In reference to the Jews of Madinah Munawarrah who would attribute good conditions that befell them to what they considered their own good fortune with Allah, and adverse conditions, like the depletion of their crops, to the presence of Nabi SAW – Allah SWT, in Surah an Nisa, admonishes:

“If good comes to them, they say, “This is from Allah “; and if evil befalls them, they say, “This is from you.”Say, “All [things] are from Allah .” So what is [the matter] with those people that they can hardly understand any statement?”(Surah Nisa:78)

Making clarion the message that all conditions – unfavourable or favourable – are from Allah, Allah SWT continues:

“What comes to you of good is from Allah , but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself.” (Surah Nisa:78)

As Tafseer Anwar al Bayaan expounds, whatever good we encounter – even the rewards of our good deeds – should be considered as purely from Allah SWT’s Divine Bounty. Adversities, on the other hand, are to be understood purely as the consequences of our wayward deeds.

The Mina tragedy, in this sense, is then an eye-opener that should jolt us back towards recognizing the overwhelming Qudrah of our Creator, and the very puny place we occupy in His Creation.

Not for a moment should we ever consider that our technological prowess, superior planning or glorified Kingdoms will render us immune from the Decree of Allah SWT.

Throughout history, as chronicled most strikingly in the Quraan, such pompousness has proven to be a definitive disease for the downfall of nations.

“Do they not travel through the earth and see what was the End of those before them? They were more numerous than these and superior in strength and in the traces (they have left) in the land: Yet all that they accomplished was of no profit to them.” (Surah Ghafir:82)

Not fatalistic

At the same time, it is equally critical to underscore that recognising the Will of Allah SWT is not a sedative meant to forestall any objective inquiry into the tragic events that have struck at the heartland of our faith.

As the editor of an otherwise controversial Muslim journal soberly notes with reference to the tragedy, “whilst the First Cause of all happenings is undoubtedly, Allah Azza Wa Jal, the secondary causes may not be  fobbed off.”

“In so far as the Taqdeer  of Allah Ta’ala is concerned,  our  minds with their finite  parameters are unable to fathom nor are we supposed to probe beyond the confines of  the limited abilities of our created minds. But, we are under Qur’aanic command to apply our intelligence  to investigate the secondary causes, to derive   constructive lessons, to repent and reform our morally rotten and corrupt lifestyle  which in fact is the secondary cause for all the disasters which are a prelude  for the  greater disasters which  are hanging over this Ummah like a dark cloud. “

The martyrs of Mina have earned their citizenship inside the realm of celestial green birds. For the rest of us, we pray that the Mina tragedy be a stepping stone for the Ummah endearing us towards reform, righteousness and a greater recognition of our All Powerful Creator.