The fifth pillar of Islam is called Hajj, all able Muslims are required to travel at least once in their lives to the center of the faith, the Ka’ba stone in Mecca Saudi Arabia. These pilgrims from all over the world encircle the Ka’ba stone and if they come during the actual celebratory time of Hajj they can take part in many ancient traditions that have been held in the same place by pagans who were there long before Muhammad rose to power. The pilgrim who returns from this journey is given an honorary title of Hajj, retaining the honor of their journey to the end of their lives.

 

While Saudi Arabia goes to great lengths to serve all these pilgrims in their visits, many die each year.

Nearly two million Muslims travel to Mecca to perform the rites of the hajj every year.

The tradition begins with a walk, eight miles across desert heat, there they stand at the mount of Arafat, asking for forgiveness and blessings. From there they walk back towards Mecca, and gather 7 stones to carry back to throw at some stone pillars that represent Satan. They throw these stones as a representation of rejection of Satan. They then walk back to the Ka’Ba to encircle it seven times. They then have a traditional run, and then men shave their heads. Each pilgrim then sacrifices an animal, the meat is donated afterwards for charity.


These traditions are extremely similar to the ones that were practiced by the pagans of ancient Arabia.


The stone of the Ka’Ba is believed to be the stone on which Abraham was to offer his son, Muslims believe the son to be Ishmael. However, the stone of Ka’Ba was recognized to be a special holy site for pagans long before Muhammad claimed it and inserted into the faith of Islam. It is inside the cube like tent structure in the middle of the mosque.

Sometimes the surging crowds, trekking from one station of the pilgrimage to the next, cause a stampede. Panic spreads, pilgrims jostle to avoid being trampled, and hundreds of deaths can occur as a result. The stoning of the devil ceremony is particularly crowded and dangerous. Some notable incidents include:

  1. July 2, 1990 : A stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel (Al-Ma'aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina, Saudi Arabia and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims,

  2. May 23, 1994 : A stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims at the stoning of the Devil ritual.

  3. April 9, 1998: at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge.

  4. March 5, 2001: Thirty five pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede during the stoning of the Devil ritual.

  5. February 11, 2003: The stoning of the Devil ritual claimed 14 pilgrims' lives.[

  6. February 1, 2004: 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.

  7. January 12, 2006: A stampede during the ritual ramy al-jamarāt on the last day of the Hajj in Mina killed at least 346 pilgrims and injured at least 289 more. The incident occurred shortly after 13:00 local time, when a busload of travellers arrived together at the eastern access ramps to the Jamarat Bridge. This caused pilgrims to trip, rapidly resulting in a lethal crush. An estimated two million people were performing the ritual at the time.