Muslims around the world yesterday celebrated the Eid al-Adha (called Eid-el-Kabir in Nigeria), which is one of the two most important festivals in the Muslim calendar.
The holiday, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice or the Greater Eid, is distinct from Eid-el-Fitr, which was celebrated in July.
Eid-el-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, when Muslims worldwide break their month-long fast. The date of Eid-el-Fitr – which is also known as the Lesser Eid – is determined by the confirmed sighting of the new moon. The date of Eid al-Adha varies in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar, falling on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month. In the UK, USA and Saudi Arabia, it starts on Thursday 24, September and lasts four days, while in South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, it begins a day later.
The Greater Eid commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to Allah – and Allah’s mercy in putting a lamb in Ishmael’s place at the last moment. Eid also marks the end of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Part of the festival is the annual Holy pilgrimage, one of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam,’ which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in his/her lifetime if the person can afford it and is physically able. It lasts for five days.
This year, over three million people are in the holy land, the Grand Mosque at the centre of Mecca, where pilgrims gather to pray and circle the cubic Kaaba building.
Pilgrims must walk seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building at the centre of the Grand Mosque, pray at nearby Mount Arafat and ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three walls.
However, the sanctity of this sacred duty was punctured yesterday when over 717 pilgrims died, and 805 injured during a stampede, bringing Saudi Arabia’s safety record for religious pilgrimages under scrutiny, the worst disaster to strike the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca in 25 years.
The incident which occurred a few miles east of Mecca, was allegedly caused by two large groups of pilgrims arriving together at a crossroads on their way to performing the “stoning the devil” ritual at Jamarat, Saudi civil defence said.
Witnesses spoke of horrific scenes, with scores of bodies, many dressed in simple white pilgrim robes, lying on a sunbaked street. The stampede happened at Street 204, one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat.
The tragedy comes despite the Saudi authority’s installing sophisticated crowd analytics software which is linked to central control room where officials can analyse and predict where pinch-points and surges are likely to take place.
While safety experts said it was too early to identify the exact cause of the latest incident, nevertheless, it raises questions about the authority’s handling of the huge crowds of devout Muslims who visit Mecca every year. The pilgrimage – known as the hajj – is considered the duty of all observant Muslims.
The tragedy was the worst to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were perished in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites near Mecca and the ninth in a string of such incidents since then.
Coincidentally, both stampedes occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam’s most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual. Over the last 25 years, such incidents have claimed the lives of more than 3,000 pilgrims.
However, yesterday’s ugly incident, just like those before, does not remove the importance of the pilgrimage and the essence of the Islamic faith. We therefore salute the Muslim community in Nigeria and their counterparts all over the world for witnessing another year and pray for the repose of the dead. BARKA DE SALLAH.