The AP reports that “244 Muslim pilgrims die in Hajj stampede.” This is a story that reads like its comes from the satirical imagination of Scott Ott of ScrappleFace. The religious pilgrimage, the mass hysteria, the stoning ritual, the stampede, the mass death, the aptly named Mount Arafat, the inevitable appearance of the Great Satan, the unasked question pregnant in the litany below — “Is it holy war to kill infidels in non-Muslim lands?” It’s not exactly “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote…”
A stampede during a stoning ritual at the annual Muslim pilgrimage Sunday killed 244 worshippers and injured hundreds more, Saudi Hajj Minister Iyad Madani said. The stampede occurred during the devil-stoning ritual, the most animated part of the annual pilgrimage.
Many pilgrims frantically throw rocks, shout insults or hurl their shoes at pillars representing the devil – acts that are supposed to demonstrate their deep disdain. Clerics frown upon such actions, saying they are un-Islamic. Last year, 14 pilgrims were trampled to death during the ritual and 35 died in a 2001 stampede. In 1998, 180 pilgrims died there.
The annual hajj, which began Thursday, climaxed Saturday as some 2 million Muslim pilgrims listened to Saudi Arabia’s top cleric denounce terrorists, calling them an affront to Islam. However, he defended the kingdom’s strict interpretation of the faith. Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Sheik said in his sermon there were those who claim to be holy warriors, but were shedding Muslim blood and destabilizing the nation.
“Is it holy war to shed Muslim blood? Is it holy war to shed the blood of non-Muslims given sanctuary in Muslim lands? Is it holy war to destroy the possession of Muslims,” he said, adding that their actions gave enemies an excuse to criticize Muslim nations. A large number of the victims of suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere have been Muslims.
Al-Sheik, who is widely respected in the Arab world as the foremost cleric in the country considered the birthplace of Islam, spoke at Namira Mosque in a televised sermon watched by millions of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The mosque is close to Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon in 632.
In speaking about terrorists who killed fellow Muslims, al-Sheik was clearly referring to the prophet’s final sermon, which contained the line: “Know that every Muslim is a Muslim’s brother, and the Muslims are brethren. Fighting between them should be avoided.” Al-Sheik also criticized the international community, accusing it of attacking Wahhabism, the strict interpretation of Islam that is applied in Saudi Arabia: “This country is based on this religion and will remain steadfast on it.”
After the sleepless night of prayer following the sermon, pilgrims gathered pebbles to throw at the pillars. Each threw seven times, chanting “bismillah” (“In the name of God”) and “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”). Calling America “the greatest Satan,” Egyptian pilgrim Youssef Omar threw pebbles at one pillar where someone scrawled “USA.” From there, some pilgrims took off to the nearby holy city Mecca to perform the main “Tawaf,” or the circling of the holy stone known as the Kaaba.
Security has been high during the hajj, with thousands of police guarding the roads and temporary camp city of Mina. Helicopters monitored the crowd from the air. The stoning ritual also marked the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, celebrated at the hajj and around the Muslim world with the slaughtering of a camel, cow or sheep. Meat is eaten and distributed to the poor. The hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in a lifetime, is taking place after a series of suicide bombings and police shootouts with suspected terrorists in Saudi Arabia. The bombings killed 51 people last year, including many Saudis, other Arabs and eight Americans. Muslims also have died in terror attacks in Turkey, Iraq, Morocco and elsewhere.
UPDATE: Striking a theme close to my heart, Charles Johnson adds: “This traditional stampede takes place year after year, and seems to kill more Muslims each time. Saudi officials invariably respond with a shrug and a hat tip to Allah. They know it