Very distressing images from the pilgrimage to Mecca this morning — over 700 were killed in a stampede at Mina, east of the city. More here. The tragedy occured during the “stoning of the devil” ceremony which forms a part of the series of ritual events all pilgrims are supposed to perform. The ceremony commemorates Abraham, the patriarch, who in the Muslim tradition visited Mecca on a hajj, pilgrimage, and was tempted by the devil. The devil appeared three times and Abraham threw seven stones at him each time. Symbolically, the stones are thrown at any one who dominates and tempts us — a political leader perhaps, or our own unruly selves.
The problem with stampedes occur since the location where the ritual is to be performed is unable to hold the enormous crowds that gather and since tradition has it that the last stone throwing should take place immediately after noon on the last day of the hajj. Religious scholars insist, however, that this is not necessary. In recent years the Saudi authorities have widened the bridge from which the stones are thrown and replaced the pillars that originally served as a target with a wall which is easier to hit and which stops the stones from hitting other pilgrims. Clearly, these efforts are not sufficient. In 2006, some 346 people were killed and and in 1990 some 1,426 people died.