Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Compassionate Islam

"I saw a head, legs, blood, dead people. We started saying, 'Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar' as the rain poured down."
Hasnaa Karam, 60-year-old Syrian tourist, Mecca

"Logically speaking, for a crane to fall from wind, even if there were strong winds, something doesn't add up."
"If there is negligence, because of these souls lost, someone must be held accountable."
Aymam Shaaban, Egyptian owner, hajj tour company, Mecca
Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. Uncredited / AP

Unusually strong winds and heavy rain are held to have been responsible for tipping over a massive crane among those surrounding the Grand Mosque in Mecca that contains the sacred Kaaba. When the crane fell, it smashed through part of the mosque's immense roof and its upper floors. Concrete slabs came tumbling down on the people assembled below. 

The death count reached 111 worshippers on Sunday, with another 238 severely injured in the collapse. According to the Health Ministry, 394 people had been treated for injuries, with 158 being hospitalized. As several of those who had been badly injured died, the original death toll of 107 steadily rose.

Rescue operations were led by the Civil Defence of the kingdom. King Salman, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques -- the first one built by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina -- and his predecessors in that role have overseen the construction of huge modern buildings; luxury hotels, shopping malls and high-priced apartments around the Grand Mosque. At the time of the crane tip-over there were no fewer than sixteen of those giant cranes arrayed around the mosque.

If heritage is held to be of such immense cultural and religious value to the House of Saud, it appears evident that ostentatious display of modern luxury buildings and the shopping malls that enhance the image of a wealthy oil state assume even greater importance. In several days' time the annual hajj will commence when between two and three million Muslims from the global ummah will converge on Mecca.

Annually, Saudi Arabia arranges for as much of an orderly progression as is possible when so many people descend on any geographic site en masse. Invariably, accidents or stampedes wounding or killing many of the faithful occur. This year the opportunity for such misadventure was emphasized with a dreadful accident spearheaded in part by Saudi Arabia's rush to diminish heritage while paying service to it, in the rush to display its immense wealth.

It might have done better to invite the millions of desperate Syrian refugees who share their ethnicity, their language, their religious sect, to take advantage of the splendid accommodation arranged for the influx of tourists celebrating the hajj, committing themselves to a humanitarian effort rather than ushering in yet another opportunity for the pious to consolidate their piety, but this is not the Saudi way nor evidently, that of Islam.

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