Panic in Mecca: A pilgrim speaks out | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 24.09.2015
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Middle East

Panic in Mecca: A pilgrim speaks out

Hundreds of people were killed in a stampede just outside Mecca during the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage. Osama bin Javaid is a Pakistani pilgrim in Mecca. He spoke to DW about his impression of the situation.

Deutsche Welle: Osama bin Javaid, how could this disaster happen?

Osama bin Javaid: On Saudi TV, we heard a large number of pilgrims came to perform the rite of jamarad in Mina, and somehow there was a stampede on the road that led to that location.

Is it related to the construction work in Mecca, where a crane collapsed and crashed into the Grand Mosque a few days ago and about a hundred people were killed?

No, they are completely unrelated incidents because when you look at the map between Mecca and Mina, Mecca is where the Great Mosque is, the holiest site of Islam, and the Kaaba is where the crane fell. It is about six kilometers away, in a place called Mina. So, during the Muslim pilgrimage of the Hajj, pilgrims travel there. It is a small town about six to seven kilometers away from Mecca. So it is a completely different incident. I'm speaking my opinion here, and I think that it could have been caused by a large number of people trying to come out at the same time and but not moving forward - something that can cause a stampede.

This disaster was not the first stampede during the Hajj. The authorities have just redesigned the site and a new bridge was built on the site where the stoning of the devil takes place. Are these changes not enough?

There have been a number of improvements and this incident did not happen at the site of the previous stampede - I think about a decade ago. Now, it is a one-way street; you cannot go around it, and you have to travel about a kilometer out to go back to where you came from. So they have improved it a lot. And this incident did not happen there. These improvements are working but probably more must be done because the numbers of people have grown drastically in the last years.

Millions of people go on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and there are more people every year. Would you say that such accidents can thus happen again and again and only be prevented if fewer pilgrims were allowed?

That is something the Saudis cannot control - they are the custodians of the Holy Mosque and Muslims around the world feel that they are entitled to come to this place. What the Saudis do is, they set country quotas each year for the number of pilgrims a nation can send. So there is already a bar on how many pilgrims can come but because there are just so many Muslims, they cannot reduce the numbers dramatically. It seems like this was another tragic accident and then, there are just many people around.

This interview was conducted by Christoph Hasselbach.

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