•I saw gory scenes, blood stains everywhere
By Lamidi Bamidele
Pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, as the fifth pillar of Islam is a divine call on every Muslim who has the wherewithal to perform the rites. As a result, it is a prayer-point of every Muslim to have the wherewithal to embark on the exercise.
It has always been my prayer to have the means to fulfill that aspect and important pillar of Islam. God answered my prayer through my appointment as one of the media team of Med-view Consult, an Hajj and Umrah agent, a subsidiary of Med-view Airline, with Alhaji Muneer Bankole as the CEO/Managing Director.
The Med-view group left Lagos on Thursday, September 10, all clad in Ihram (white cloth) and arrived Jeddah Airport early on Friday. There was a delay at the airport and we waited for five to six hours for the checking routine. Thereafter, we proceeded to Makkah. We settled down in our hotel – a 3-minute-walk distance to Holy Kaabah – and were out again to perform the first duty of Hajj (Tawaf), to circumambulate the Kaabah.
The weather was inclement at that time. Later, it became cloudy and suddenly the storm which started mildly snowballed into a terrific wind. Everybody at that point became very apprehensive. In a jiffy, over hundred people died. One of the cranes being used in the various expansion construction work going on around the Kaabah said to belong to the Bin Laden Group fell and killed many of the pilgrims performing the Tawaf.
Initially, we did not know the magnitude of the accident as we did not have prior information of any disaster. We only noticed that some of the places around Safar and Marwa were cordoned off, directing pilgrims towards other directions. We equally noticed bloodstain everywhere. We performed Tawaf and returned to our hotel. At the hotel, we got information of what happened and we were all thanking Allah for the delay at the airport earlier. We gathered that the wind which had occurred minutes before we got to the Kaabah had fell the crane on some pilgrims.
We offered prayers for the souls of the departed and moved on with our hajj rites. We were provided with various Nigerian dishes throughout our stay. The clinic set up in the hotel by Med-view Consult headed by a veteran gynaecologist, Dr Naheem Ekemode, had a nice time throughout as they were not really busy.
From Makka, we proceeded to Mina, where we were accommodated in various tents from where we went to Arafat. Muzdalifah was the next point which I referred to as ‘Leveller’ because all pilgrims, no matter how big, spend a night sleeping on bare floor on a mat.
The journey from Muzdalifah was the one that led to Jamarat where all pilgrims performed the rite of throwing stones at the devil. So, we departed after the morning prayer. It was on the way to Jamarat that the disaster happened.
How it happened
As we were going, we saw helicopters hovering in the sky and we became worried, asking what was amiss again. For the safety of the pilgrims at that point, the Med-view group led by Alhaji Abdul Salam Abdul Raheem took a rewarding decision. We had two decisions to make, either to go back to our tent at Mina to drop our items we had taken to Arafat and Muzdalifa or to go straight to Jamarah to stone the devil. We chose the former, and this turned out to be very rewarding as our group was saved from the stampede by a few minutes delay as a result of our decision to go back to Mina before proceeding to Jamarah. I really don’t know how
I would have survived the stampede if we had proceeded with the bag and baggage virtually all of us were carrying. Personally, I was carrying a bag with a laptop which would have hindered free movement in the stampede.
At that point close to Jamarah, we never knew what had happened. But a Saudi official had told us not to pass through a particular route. I equally noticed that the space between us was closing up and before we knew it, we were all gasping for breath. My pair of sandals was stepped on while I managed to regain my balance. I told myself, ‘I dared not make any attempt to pick it’ since it was not a sin to walk on bare feet. As if that was not enough, the upper Ihram cloth had disappeared and I was not in control of my legs again. It was like a wave taking one to different direction with the temperature of 43 degree celsius.
I managed to look ahead if there was hope for a free space. I noticed some pilgrims coming from the opposite direction. I looked by my side and saw a vehicle parked on the road thereby leaving a tiny space for escape. As if everybody was looking for that tiny space, a crowd surged towards that direction struggling to save themselves. As we pushed further, it became very close, but I was already loosing strength and reaching for the ground. The ground to say the least was the final for any one at that spot. Well, I joined others to say the last word (Kalimah) ‘Lailah ila Lah…’ in case it eventually happened that I fall.
With the force of those pushing from behind, I managed to get to the tiny space, and that was how I was saved. I looked back to see how I managed to escape, and saw a gory scene of people falling as others climbed on them as the word of Kalimah rented the air.
Saudi authorities should be blamed
The Saudi Authority, no matter what their defenses are, could not be absolved from blame. Security men and all other social workers seemed to be sleeping as they were not around the scene at the time of the stampede. It took them close to 40 minutes before I saw them springing up to attend to victims. All the while, helicopters were seen hovering over the area and it still took over 40 minutes before responses came.
It was alleged that the Egyptian pilgrims were the ones coming from the opposite direction where pilgrims were not allowed to pass through. This, however indicted the Saudi Authority for allowing this ‘preferential treatment’. Again, the vehicle which was parked on the road occupying substantial part of the road should not be there at all.
Certainly, the stampede should have been avoided and also, the high number of casualties showed that the Saudi authorities were not on ground to curtail the number of casualties. As the custodian of the Holy Mosque, it has a lot of work to do.