Letter: Fatalities are a part of pilgrimage

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article 'Hundreds die as Muslim pilgrimage turns to tragedy' (25 May) overlooks fundamental facts surrounding pilgrimage rituals and the sites in which they are performed. Pilgrimage is the most difficult act of worship, for it requires physical fitness as well as forbearance and endurance. Further, a large number of pilgrims are in their sixties and for most of them this is their first trip abroad.

All pilgrimage rituals involve walking and physical contact, either in closed sites such as the Sacred Mosque or in narrow mountainous ones such as where it was reported some may have died this year. In addition, all rituals must be performed at fixed sites and at prescribed times.

The area of the sacred sites consist of mountains and narrow valleys and is approximately 30 square miles. Hence, it is understandable that many may fall ill while others cannot withstand heat or stampeding at the narrow sites.

There have always been fatalities at pilgrimages throughout history - if not at the ritual sites, then at the hands of highwaymen and bandits. Thanks should be given to the founder of the Saudi dynasty, who has maintained stability and guaranteed the security of pilgrims in the past.

Further, many pilgrims look forward and cherish the prospect of dying while performing such an obligation as pilgrimage.

Considering the above facts, it is grossly inappropriate to depict the fall of a small number of victims of pilgrims as a tragedy, given a turnout of well over 1.5 million pilgrims.

The notion that the disaster reflects badly on the Saudis is a sheer nonsense. The facilities and developments that have been carried out in the sacred sites - and the billions of riyals that have been allocated for these projects - are concrete evidence of their concern to improve safety and provide comfort for pilgrims.

Another naked lie is the notion that Saudi Arabia is the least hospitable of states. There are more than 4 million foreign workers in the kingdom, 30,000 of whom are British. None has ever suffered institutionalised racism or lives in fear of being attacked or abused because of the colour of his or her skin.

Yours faithfully,

T. QASAMULLAH

Ministry of Islamic Affairs

and Endowments

London, E1

26 May

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