The Ministry of Religious Affairs has announced that eight pilgrims have died so far during this year’s Hajj. The Ministry stated that all the pilgrims died due to either old age or from chronic diseases.
Hajj is well known as a physically grueling, as well as spiritual experience. Speaking to Tunisia Live, Secretary General of the Tunisian Union of Imams, Fadhel Achour spoke about the challenges and risks involved in the pilgrimage, “The dense crowds, trekking from one station of the pilgrimage to the next one [that may] cause a crowd to collapse.”
Achour noted that none of this year’s deaths had occurred under unusual circumstances. Those that died, Achour said, had, “mainly suffered from chronic diseases, because people usually think about going to Hajj when they reach seventy or eighty years old.” Commenting on Saudi Arabia’s responsibilities to Hajj pilgrims Achour said, “I think that Saudi Arabia has to prevent sick and very old people from going there and should provide adequate emergency services and staff to take care of the pilgrims.”
Achour strongly criticized the Ministry of Religious Affairs for its apparent lack of care for Tunisian pilgrims. According to Achour, “even though this year’s deaths have decreased compared to last year, the Ministry has manipulated the list of the staff assigned to take care of Tunisian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. Many of them have nothing to do and went only for the sake of Hajj. We sent a petition to charge them.”
The Hajj has being plagued by serious incidents. Last year an estimated 717 pilgrims were killed and a further 863 injured in a crush outside the holy city of Mecca. In 2006, another stampede killed at least 345 pilgrims, with hundreds injured during the “Stoning of Shaitan” (The Devil) on the last day of the Hajj in Mina.
In 1994, at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 were injured in an incident on Jamaraat Bridge. However, the worst incident of modern times occurred in 1990 when a stampede at a tunnel in Mecca killed 1,426.
Zaineb is a journalist in the Tunisia Live newsroom. She speaks Arabic, French and English.