Absurd propaganda against KSA
What nonsense! First of all, the tents in Mina are for use during the Haj, and are located outside Makkah. It would not be reasonable or very humane to house thousands of Syrian refugees there for months on end. Living in a refugee camp by definition is rather wretched. Second, why cannot Hajis both perform their Islamic duty and care for Syrian refugees by sending them prayers and money? The two things are not mutually excludable.
Next there was the rumor, never confirmed by any Saudi official that I know of, that the Kingdom had offered to build 200 mosques in Germany for the Syrian refugees. This caused a negative reaction among some German politicians, who criticized the alleged offer by saying that the refugees needed economic assistance more than mosques. This rumor served again to make the Kingdom look bad, not that mosques for the refugees would be a bad thing, but in terms of priorities this was seen in the West as insensitive and helped play on the fears of some right-wing Germans that Muslims want to take over their society with their mosques and Sharia law.
Finally, the tragedy of the stampede at Mina on Thursday, that killed more than 700 pilgrims and left more than 800 seriously wounded, is again being used by the Kingdom’s enemies to unfairly attack it and once again say that the organization and running of the Haj should be taken out of Saudi hands. This is frankly ridiculous given the billions of riyals spent by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Saudi government in improving all of the pilgrimage sites, from the massive expansions of the Two Holy Mosques; to the building of the light rail linking Mina, Arafat and Muzadalifah; to the new expanded bridges and tunnels in Mina, and the high-speed rail line that is being built to link Madinah to Makkah through Jeddah and its airport.
I have been reading many uninformed comments online following the Mina tragedy asking why the Kingdom has not hired crowd control experts to study the Haj. If they did just a little bit of research they would know that the Kingdom has had a Haj Research Center since 1975. At first it was part of King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and then in 1983 it was transferred to Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah. In 1998, its name was changed to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute of Haj Research.
Through the Haj Research Center and the Ministry of Haj, the Kingdom has hired hundreds of experts, many of them foreign, to study the Haj and come up with new crowd-control practices in order to make the whole journey safer for everyone. The Saudi government has also kept a tight grip on pilgrim quotas from each Muslim country because of the physical and geographical limitations of Makkah, Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina. This is to ensure a comfortable and safe Haj for everyone involved. Even so, every year Muslim countries complain that their quota of Haj visas is not big enough. This year the number of pilgrims was kept to around 2 million, down from 3 million in 2012, mostly because of the expansion work in Makkah and Madinah, which has restricted the available areas inside the two holy mosques.
The stampede at Mina seems to have happened when two groups of pilgrims came face to face, coming from opposite directions on a one-way street. The very high heat, above 40 degrees Celsius, the fervor of many of the pilgrims who wanted to get to the Jamarat area quickly to stone the Devil, and the big bags being carried by many of the pilgrims all contributed to the disaster. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has ordered a full investigation of the accident, so we should all wait to see the results of it. After the fateful crane crash in the Holy Haram on Sept. 11 the king ordered an investigation, blamed the Binladen construction company for negligence and barred their executives from leaving the country, and swiftly announced monetary compensation for all of the victims. That is far from sweeping it under the carpet, and we can be sure that the same is being done in the Mina investigation.
Saudi Arabia’s enemies should be ashamed of themselves for trying to score political points against the Kingdom by using the innocent victims of these tragedies. If the Kingdom had been truly negligent in taking care of the pilgrims, I don’t think anyone would object to such criticisms. But when the Kingdom has spent billions of riyals and man-hours planning and improving the various pilgrimage areas, it is not only unfair to blame the Kingdom for these disasters. It is downright cynical. What we really need are constructive suggestions on how to make the Haj safer for everyone involved.
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