Hajj stampede: People will still put themselves at risk - senior British Muslim



Pilgrims will continue to put themselves at risk following the horrifying crush at the holy city of Mecca that killed more than 700 people, according to a senior British Muslim who is not confident that the tragedy will be properly analysed.

The deadliest disaster in 25 years to hit the sacred hajj pilgrimage left at least 719 people dead and 863 injured, according to Saudi Arabian officials, and shocked members of the UK's Muslim community.

Khalid Anis, who is on the executive board of the Islamic Society of Britain, said it is a tragedy that "people are allowed to die on something which should be spiritual and peaceful".

He told the Press Association: "Obviously we all want answers. We all need to know why this happened. There are lots of rumours flying about but I always find rumours at this stage very unhelpful. There just needs to be a clear, transparent analysis of what went wrong."

But Mr Anis is not confident that an analysis like that will happen and said it has already turned into a "blame game".

He said any inquiry needs to be led by Saudi Arabia, but said the the British Government could "push the Saudis to hold the inquiry and to make sure that it's open and transparent".

He said it is not about pointing blame, but instead the focus should be on investigating the cause and ensuring that it never happens again.

In terms of the event itself, Mr Anis said Saudis have to think about what is manageable, how they limit it and how they educate the people who are coming, adding: "Am I confident that it will be looked at and analysed properly? No. Because it's already turned into a blame game and we have no idea of the story.

"So I'm not confident that it will be sorted and you know, people will still go to hajj and people will still put themselves at risk, and you know, that's a tragedy really, that people are allowed to die on something which should be spiritual and peaceful.

"It's always been difficult to go on hajj, so nobody's denying the difficulty, but it should not any longer in this day and age be life threatening."

Some two million people from across the world take part in the five-day pilgrimage which began on Tuesday.

It is estimated that around 25,000 British nationals head overseas from the UK to Saudi Arabia for the event, according to Abta, the travel association.

It is not known if any of the dead are British but Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is bolstering the size of its team on the ground as it seeks to "urgently gather information about British nationals who may require assistance".

FCO staff are "in close contact" with the Saudi authorities and tour operators, and are checking hospitals and other locations.

Mr Anis described a fraught few hours in which he was trying to find out if his parents had been caught up in the tragedy.

He said as the death toll increased, so too did his concerns for his parents, adding that it took "a good few hours" to get any contact.

His mother managed to get a text through to his sister on someone's phone.

Mr Anis said the vast majority of pilgrims will carry on, adding that the pilgrimage is viewed as an invitation from God to visit his house.

He said pilgrims will not excuse what happened, but they will not "suddenly shelve their plans", adding that they will feel that the victims possibly "died in the best possible place".

Meanwhile, British leaders say pilgrims heading to the hajj must be given safety training.

Each year pilgrims pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to go on the trip which all believers who can afford it are required to perform once, with people spending between £4,000-£5,000 for a typical pilgrimage.

The crush happened in a morning surge of pilgrims at the intersection of streets 204 and 223 in Mina, a large valley about three miles east of Mecca.

The faithful were making their way towards a large structure overlooking three columns where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles.

Amateur video and pictures on social media showed images of dead bodies on the ground dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during the hajj.

The tragedy happened as Muslims around the world celebrated the key festival of Eid al-Adha, which is known as the Feast of the Sacrifice as it recalls Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to Allah.

It comes just two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in the Saudi city of Mecca, the focal point of the hajj.

A stampede in a tunnel killed over 1,400 pilgrims in 1990. Other fatal incidents have included the death of 244 pilgrims who were crushed in Mina in 2004 while more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a 2006 stampede also at Mina.

Saudi authorities deployed about 100,000 security forces this year to oversee crowd management and ensure pilgrims' safety.

Zulfi Karim of the Bradford Council for Mosques estimated between 5,000 to 7,000 people from the city were at the event.

Saudi Arabia Faces Growing Criticism for Hajj Stampede Deaths