There have been incidents during the Hajj', the Muslim pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, that have caused loss of life. Every follower of Islam is required to visit Mecca during the Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime, if able to do so; the pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month of the Hajj, Mecca must cope with as many as three million pilgrims.
Plane travel makes Mecca and the Hajj more accessible to pilgrims from all over the world. As a consequence, the Hajj has become increasingly crowded. City officials are required to control large crowds and provide food, shelter, sanitation, and emergency services for millions. However, it has not always been possible to prevent incidents.
Crushes and failures of crowd control
Sometimes the dense, surging troupes, trekking from one station of the pilgrimage to the next, cause a stampede, or more precisely, a progressive troupe collapse. At densities above 6 or 7 persons per square meter, individuals cannot move, groups are swept along in waves, individuals jostle to find breath and to avoid falling and being trampled, and hundreds of deaths can occur as a result. The stoning of the devil(ramī aj-jamarāt) ceremony is particularly crowded and dangerous. Pilgrims ritualistically throw pebbles at three walls (formerly pillars) which represent the three places where the devil tempted Abraham. It is one of a series of ritual acts that must be performed in the Hajj.
Some notable incidents include:
- July 2, 1990: A stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel (Al-Ma'aisim tunnel) leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafatled to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims, many of them of Malaysian, Indonesian and Pakistani origin.
- May 23, 1994: A stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims at the stoning of the Devil ritual.
- April 9, 1998: at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamaraat Bridge.
- March 5, 2001: 35 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede during the stoning of the Devil ritual.
- February 11, 2003: The stoning of the Devil ritual claimed 14 pilgrims' lives.
- February 1, 2004: 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
- January 22, 2005: A stampede through the stoning ritual in Mina led to the killing of three pilgrims
- January 12, 2006: A stampede during the stoning of the Devil on the last day of the Hajj in Mina killed at least 346 pilgrims and injured at least 289 more. The incident occurred shortly after 13:00 local time, when a busload of travelers arrived together at the eastern access ramps to the Jamaraat Bridge. This caused pilgrims to trip, rapidly resulting in a lethal stampede. An estimated two million people were performing the ritual at the time.
- September 24, 2015: At least 2,236pilgrims were killed during a stampede. The Saudi government has yet to release an official report. A few weeks after the incident, the Saudi Vice Minister of Health officially announced 4,173 people dead in this incident in a press release, however, this page was removed from the website within three hours and requesting it would redirect the visitor to the home page. The Saudi Health Minister claimed that the published death toll was false in a Twitter post. Fars News, a semi-official news agency of Iran, provided a walkthrough video to accessing the page assuming it was out of reach due to high page requests. An AP report compiled from official reports and statements totaled the deaths at at least 1,470, over 700 more than the figures from Saudi authorities, and the worst toll so far in Mecca. The AP later updated its estimate to 2,411 pilgrims killed.
- December 1975: An exploding gas cylinder caused a fire in a tent colony and resulted in the deaths of 200 pilgrims.
- April 15, 1997: 343 pilgrims were killed and 1,500 injured in a tent fire.The tents are now fireproof.
- February 13, 2002: Forty Haj pilgrims from the UAE died when the bus they were travelling in collided head on with a truck in Saudi Arabia's Al Ihsa province. 37 Pakistanis, a Saudi, an Egyptian and a Syrian died.
- November 1, 2011: Two pilgrims, a wife and husband, died in a coach fire. There were two coaches in the convoy, and a person in the second coach noticed smoke billowing from the coach in front. He radioed the driver to stop. Everybody evacuated the coach, and as the last two were getting out, the coach suffered three explosions.
Protests and violence
- July 31, 1987: A clash between Iranian demonstratorsand Saudi security forces led to the deaths of more than 400 pilgrims and thousands injured.
- July 9, 1989: Two bombs exploded, killing one pilgrim and wounding another 16.
- January 22, 1973: A Royal Jordanian Boeing 707 crashedat Kano, Nigeria, killing 176 Hajj pilgrims returning from Mecca.
- December 4, 1974: Martinair Flight 138crashed near Colombo, Sri Lanka, killing all 191 people aboard – 182 Indonesian hajj pilgrims bound for Mecca, and 9 crew members.
- November 15, 1978: Icelandic Airlines Loftleiðir HFFlight LL 001 crashed at Colombo, Sri Lanka, killing 170 (mostly Indonesian) Muslim pilgrims returning from the Hajj.
- November 26, 1979: Pakistan International Airlines Flight 740had an in-flight fire and crashed after takeoff from the old Jeddah International Airport on 26 November 1979 killing all 156 on board the Boeing 707.
- August 19, 1980: Saudia Flight 163had a cargo compartment fire shortly after take-off from Riyadh airport. All 287 passengers and 14 crew on board the Lockheed L-1011-200 TriStar, registration HZ-AHK, died after the aircraft made an emergency landing.
- July 11, 1991: Nigeria Airways Flight 2120(operated by Nationair) was a chartered passenger flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Sokoto, Nigeria which had an in-flight fire and crashed shortly after takeoff from King Abdulaziz International Airport, killing all 247 Hajj pilgrims and 14 crew members on board the DC-8.
Mingling of visitors from many countries, some of which have poor health care systems still plagued by preventable infectious diseases, can lead to the spread of epidemics. If an outbreak were to occur on the road to Mecca, pilgrims could exacerbate the problem when they returned home and passed their infection on to others. This was more of a problem in the past. One such disease, which has prompted response from the Saudi government, is meningitis as it became a primary concern after an international outbreak following the Hajj in 1987. Due to post-Hajj outbreaks globally of certain types of meningitis in previous years, it is now a visa requirement to be immunised with the ACW135Y vaccine before arrival. Every year, the Saudi government publishes a list of required vaccines for pilgrims, which for 2010 also included yellow fever, polio, and influenza.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus
As of 9 September 2013, the Saudi government asked "elderly and chronically ill Muslims to avoid the hajj this year" and restricted the numbers of people allowed into the country due to Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Although MERS-CoV was not detected among pilgrims, this does not rule out risk of the disease at Hajj.The disease, though, is only mildly contagious.
2006 Al Ghaza hotel collapse
A concrete multi-story building located in Mecca close to the Grand Mosque collapsed on January 5, 2006. The building, the Al-Ghaza Hotel, is said to have housed a restaurant, a convenience store, and a hotel. The hotel was reported to have been housing pilgrims to the 2006 Hajj. It is not clear how many pilgrims were in the hotel at the time of the collapse. As of the latest reports, the death toll was 76 and the number of injured was 64.
2015 crane collapse
A crane fell in the grand mosque on September 11, 2015, ten days before Hajj, causing 118 deaths and 394 injuries.
Other fatal events
Of the millions of pilgrims each year, many are elderly, and some die of their illnesses, exacerbated in some cases by the heat and exertion.
- Before the beginning of the first day of the December 2006 Hajj, 243 pilgrims had died, according to a statement by the Saudi government.The majority of deaths were reportedly related to heart problems, exhaustion in the elderly and people with weak health, caused by the heat and tiring physical work involved in the pilgrimage. After the conclusion of the Hajj, the Nigerian government reported that 33 nationals had died mostly "as a result of hypertension, diabetes and heart attack", not due to epidemic illnesses, and rejected assertions that Nigerian pilgrims died in an accident on a road to Mina. Egypt's official news agency has reported that by December 30 (10 Dhu al-Hijjah), 22 Egyptian pilgrims had died. Four elderly Filipino pilgrims in their 50s died during the pilgrimage of illnesses or other 'natural causes', and were buried in Mecca. The Pakistani Hajj Medical Commission has announced that approximately 130 Pakistani pilgrims died during the Hajj season in Saudi Arabia, "mostly aged and victims of pneumonia and heart patients", and that 66 pilgrims were admitted to Saudi hospitals for similar ailments.
- In early December 2006, a coach carrying pilgrims from holy sites in Medinato Mecca crashed 55 miles north of the port of Rabegh near Jeddah, killing 3 Britons and injuring 34 others, including two children.
- In November 2011, thirteen Afghans died and a dozen others were wounded as a result of illness and traffic accidents.
Female pilgrims have spoken up about sexual abuse experienced on the Hajj through a movement called the Mosque Me Too movement. Using the hashtag #MosqueMeToo, which stems from the Me Too movement which used the hashtag #MeToo, Muslim women have shared their experiences online about sexual abuse in Mecca.
Critics say that the Saudi government should have done more to prevent such tragedies. The Saudi government insists that any such mass gatherings are inherently dangerous and difficult to handle, and that they have taken a number of steps to prevent the problems. The fatalities in the largest tragedy in September 2015 are alleged to have been downplayed by the Saudis by as many as 1,700.
One of the biggest steps, which is also controversial, is a new system of registrations, passports, and travel visas to control the flow of pilgrims. This system is designed to encourage and accommodate first-time visitors to Mecca, while restricting repeat visits. Pilgrims who have the means and desire to perform the Hajj several times have protested what they see as discrimination, but the Hajj Commission has stated that they see no alternative if further tragedies are to be prevented.
Following the 2004 stampede, Saudi authorities embarked on major construction work in and around the Jamaraat Bridge area. Additional accessways, footbridges, and emergency exits were built, and the three cylindrical pillars were replaced with concrete walls to enable more pilgrims simultaneous access to them without the jostling and fighting for position of recent years. The government has also announced a multimillion-dollar project to expand the bridge to five levels; the project is planned for completion in time for the 1427 AH (Dec. 2006 – Jan. 2007) Hajj. Following the 2006 incident, the Jamaraat Bridge and the pillars representing Satan were demolished and reconstructed. A wider, multi-level bridge was built, and massive columns replaced the pillars themselves. Now, each level of the bridge allows easier and safer access to the columns representing Satan. In addition, the stoning ceremony must be carried out according to pre-determined schedules to prevent over-crowding and the attendant risks. The Jamaraat basin has been expanded from its current circular shape into an oval to allow better access to the pillars. The new arrangements provide for separate access and departure routes. However, a security breakdown is mentioned as cause for the 2015 stampede. A group of pilgrims who had cast their own stones and were returning to their camp, instead of taking the route designated for returning pilgrims, they took the route meant for those who were coming and crossed the other group of pilgrims heading straight to the jamaraat.