Mecca, Saudi Arabia was the scene of a tragic stampede today, for which the death toll continues to rise. Fox News is reporting that over 717 Muslim pilgrims are dead and 863 were injured in the annual Hajj rite.
Each year, an estimated 2 million Muslims make their way to the Saudi Arabia holy city. The Hajj pilgrimage is considered to be a mandatory duty to be performed by every adult Muslim at least once in their life, according to the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.
Much of the world had been focusing on the fate of Saudi teen, Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, who has been accused of taking part in anti-Saudi government demonstrations and sentenced to crucifixion and beheading. The BBC notes that in Saudi Arabia, the punishment of crucifixion is actually beheading followed by public display of the corpse. Ali Al-Nimr was reported to have been 17 when he committed the violation of Saudi law.
It was reportedly Bill Maher who turned the world’s attention to Ali al-Nimr with a tweet, comparing him to Texan high school student and clock maker, Ahmed Mohamed.
Another Saudi, Raif Badawi, made international headlines when he received a punishment of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for writing a blog perceived as critical of Islam. Raif Badawi’s sentence sparked an international outcry. The Saudi blogger received the first 50 lashing of his punishment in January, 2015. A video uploaded to YouTube purports to show Badawi receiving the first 50 lashings.
The remainder were originally scheduled to be administered 50 at a time each Friday, but as of June, they have been postponed, when Slate reported that Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidarfelt, felt that he would “not survive” them. Badawi is still in captivity in Saudi Arabia reports the Washington Post. The CBC reports that Raif Badawi has been offered a “selection certificate” by the Quebec government, meaning that if freed, he could begin the process of immigrating to Canada.
Recent popular Google searches based on the term “Saudi Arabia” were combined with terms like “crucifixion” and “Ali Mohammed al-Nimr.” That changed this morning with the deadly Mecca stampede, when “Saudi Arabia” searches began being combined with “stampede.”
Lamentably, today’s Saudi stampede isn’t the first of its kind in Mecca. In 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were trampled tunnel; in 2004, 244 were trampled at the tent city of Mina; and then, again in Mina, in 2006, another 360 perished in a crush.
Two weeks ago, 111 people were killed when a crane collapsed in Mecca, making today’s stampede the second deadly incident of this year’s holy season. Reports suggest that this has caused some to question the preparedness of the government of Saudi Arabia to deal with such a large influx of pilgrims.
The date of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia changes, owing to the fact that the Islamic calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. The pilgrimage takes place on the eighth through twelfth day of Dhu al-Hijjah the final month of the Islamic year, reports About.
“I saw someone trip over someone in a wheelchair and several people tripping over him. People were climbing over one another just to breathe,” Abdullah Lotfy, an Egyptian who survived the ordeal was quoted. “It was like a wave. You go forward and suddenly you go back.”
Four-thousand rescue personnel and 220 emergency vehicles were reportedly deployed to the scene.
Most recent reports indicate that Ali al-Nimr is still alive in Saudi Arabia, but that his beheading is imminent.
[Mecca Photo by Muhannad Fala’ah / Getty Images — Ali Mohammed al-Nimr Screenshot Courtesy Euronews / YouTube — Mecca Photo by Muhannad Fala’ah / Getty Images — Mecca Photo by Muhannad Fala’ah / Getty Images]