Remembering the 2006 Hajj Stampede on January 12 that left 345 pilgrims dead

The day was January 12, 2006. Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims had geared up for the final day of the Hajj Pilgrimage in Mina near Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

They had gathered at the Jamaraat Bridge to pelt stones at three large stone walls (also called Jamaraat in Arabic), which are believed to be the embodiment of the ‘Devil.’ The ritual, dubbed the ‘Stoning of the Devil,’ is undertaken by the Hajj pilgrims each year to absolve themselves of all sins.

Given that it is the last day of the pilgrimage, several Muslims bring their luggage to the event. On the fateful day of January 12, 2006, the situation was no different.

Location of the Jamaraat Bridge in Mina near Mecca, data via OpenStreetMap contributors/ Wikimedia Maps

While the ritual can be undertaken between noon and pre-sunset, most pilgrims try to participate in the event immediately after noon prayer (to coincide with Prophet Muhammad’s last act of stoning the devil).

Overcrowding and poor crowd control remain the hallmark of the event. So when tens of thousands of people gathered at the Jamarrat Bridge on January 12, 2006, it resulted in a stampede-like situation.

During the incident, over 345 people were killed and an additional 1000 people were injured after they tipped over their luggage bags and created a pile-up.

Bodies of pilgrims removed in Mina on January 12, 2006, image via Reuters

While speaking to The Guardian, an eyewitness named Suad Abu Hamada said, “The bodies were piled up. I couldn’t count them – they were too many.” She recounted witnessing people jumping on each other and screaming at the same time.

Soon after, TV footage showed the dead bodies of pilgrims on stretchers and covered with white sheets. According to a Saudi TV network, al-Ekhbariyah, most of the deceased were from South Asia.

A small hospital, located near the site of the accident, by the name of Mina General Hospital was overwhelmed with patients. As such, some of the injured were seen at hospitals in Riyadh and nearby Mecca.

Bodies removed after 2006 Hajj stampede, image via Ali Jarekji/ Reuters

A few days prior to the event, an additional 76 Muslim pilgrims died after a building that was being used as a makeshift hospital collapsed. The Jamaraat Bridge has been a notorious site for stampedes.

In 1990, about 1426 Muslim pilgrims were killed in a similar stampede while 244 pilgrims died in 2004. In 2015, about 717 Muslims were killed during the annual pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca.

According to Islamic Finder, the ‘Stoning of the Devil’ represents a symbolic replay of the encounter between Satan and Prophet Ibrahim (also known as Abraham).

“When he [Ibrahim] left Mina and was brought down to al-Aqaba, the Devil appeared to him at Stone-Heap of the Defile. Gabriel (Jibril) said to him: “Pelt him!” so Ibrahim threw seven stones at him so that he disappeared from him. Then he appeared to him at the Middle Stone-Heap. Gabriel said to him: “Pelt him!” so he pelted him with seven stones so that he disappeared from him. Then he appeared to him at the Little Stone-Heap. Gabriel said to him: “Pelt him!” so he pelted him with seven stones like the little stones for throwing with a sling. So the Devil withdrew from him.”

Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son, Ismail, was reportedly ordered by Allah. Satan made numerous attempts to stop Ibrahim from carrying out the commandment. The Angel Gabriel then gave him the order to hurl stones against Satan.

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