More Mecca Woes As Fire Strikes Hajj Pilgrims

A hotel fire in Mecca has injured at least two people and caused the evacuation of 1000 more, according to Al Jazeera. The fire reportedly occurred on the eighth floor of an 11 hotel in Mecca’s Aziziya neighborhood. There are conflicting reports about this detail, with some media outlets, like the Times of India, reporting the location of the fire as occurring on the 16th floor of a 20-storey building. Regardless of these details, this has been a horror year for the Hajj. This fire comes just days after a crane associated with the Bin Laden family’s construction business collapsed, killing over a hundred people.

The Oman Observer posted some of the first reports of the fire.

The Saudi Civil Defense Agency released the initial reports of the fire, but declined to issue any information about the nationality of the pilgrims concerned or the cause of the fire.

Pilgrimage to Mecca has frequently been fraught with risk, due to the sheer logistics of the Hajj. While there have been no incidents for the last ten years, this has largely been due to significant reforms in safety and planning on the part of the Saudi government, who take both financial and administrative responsibility for many aspects of the Hajj. These reforms were put in place after numerous fatal incidents, including a stampede in a pedestrian tunnel that killed close to 1,500 people in 1990. In 1997, a deadly fire in Mecca killed 300 pilgrims. The relative safety of the Hajj in recent years is no mean feat when considering the vast and ever-increasing number of pilgrims taking part every lunar year.

The Hajj is one of the “Five Pillars” of Islam, being an integral part of the Islamic faith. It is a requirement that all Muslims make the journey to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes, if at all possible. Exemptions are granted for Muslims who are not able bodied or who simply cannot afford to go to Mecca. The spiritual aspects aside, the masses flocking to Mecca represent significant financial activity. One of the other pillars of Islam is “alms-giving,” and there is a huge uptake of meat products, especially lamb, during the Mecca pilgrimage as wealthy Muslims put on feasts for the less well off. On top of this, the Saudi government annually goes to huge expense to provide subsidized transport, construct tent cities, and bus pilgrims into and out of Mecca.

[Picture via Getty Images/Muhannad Fala’ah]