“For every nation is a specified term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede it.” (Quran TMQ 7:34)
On Thursday 24th September 2015, stampedes in Mina killed over 700 people. It is the deadliest incident to occur during the Hajj in 25 years and the second disaster to strike Mecca in two weeks after a crane collapsed at the Masjid al-Haram killing 109 people, on Friday 11th September 2015. Recordings found on social media captured the moment when strong winds and heavy rain weakened the large crane until it finally gave way over the masjid.
Whilst it is certainly heart wrenching to hear of such a tragedy it is important to keep in mind a few points when reacting to this news.
1. Is this a punishment from Allah swt?
The Qada (decree) of Allah swt is unknown to man. We can neither predict the future nor change its definitive course. Similarly, we have no knowledge over whether such events occurred due to a punishment from Allah swt or whether it was simply a test. Indeed, Allah swt tests those whom He swt loves, the Prophet (saw) stated in a narration:
“If Allah intends good for someone, then He afflicts him with trials.” (Sahih Bukhari)
So although misfortune and difficulty may befall the Muslim, this doesn’t necessarily mean its a punishment from the Allah swt. Instead, the believer sees this as a decree and a test from the Almighty, so as to exemplify ones faith and obedience in difficult times.
“Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.” (Quran TMQ 29: 2-3)
This is different to the capitalist way of life, which tells its adherents that their purpose is to maximise their benefit and pleasure, and anything that contradicts this is contradicting their reason for existence. This consistently creates anxiety within a person; over things that befall him and the good that escapes him. He has less tolerance to cope with difficulties in life such as loss of wealth, health and even the death of loved ones, whereas for the believer these are seen as part of life’s tests in order to overcome and upon which there will always be reward so long as their adherence is correct towards the Ahkam Shari’ah.
“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.” (Sahih Muslim)
Therefore, disasters like the stampede in Mina or the crane falling on Masjid al Haram, cannot be said to be a punishment from Allah swt unless we have clear texts that indicate this, rather we view these as tests from Allah swt as reminders upon our lives and our true purpose in it.
2. Should we become fatalistic about such events?
Indeed death is such that it can arrive at any time, for any reason (or none at all) and this is a matter beyond our control. This should not render us fatalistic (and consequently indifferent to life) nor should it make us sensitive to that which we are unaware of. For the duty upon the Muslim is to obey his Lord in the areas which he has been given control and recognise that whatever is outside his influence is the decree of Allah (swt) and Him alone.
The Islamic belief has a unique view towards the subject of al Qada wal Qadr (divine fate and predestination), at the same time it places the burden of accountability upon humans and relinquishes his worry upon the end result of things. For example, Allah swt places the responsibility of work upon a man but ultimately controls the wealth that may arise from that work.
“Say: ‘Truly my Lord enlarges the provision (rizq) for whom He will of His slaves, and (also) restricts (it) for him, and whatever you spend of anything (in Allah’s cause), He will replace it. And He is the best of providers’” [TMQ Saba: 39]
Allah swt will take us to account over the choices we make and the fulfillment of those choices but we will not have to account for those matters that exist outside of the choices we have made on the Day of Judgment. So we may drive in a reckless way, which results in knocking down a pedestrian but as to whether the pedestrian lives of dies is in the decree of Allah swt. We will however, still be accountable for the recklessness of our driving and the resulting impact it had.
Therefore, this forces a Muslim to be conscious and cautious over the choices he makes and pushes him to fulfill what is within his sphere of influence to the best of his abilities, only to then make tawwakal (reliance) upon Allah swt over the manner in which the results (of his choice) manifest.
So although it was the decree of Allah swt to take the lives of those hujjaj (the deaths due to the crane falling or the stampede in Mina) we still look to see if those who undertook the planning and the precautions (what was within their sphere of influence) did so to the best of their abilities, or if they were negligent towards the precious lives of the hujjaj.
3. Could the Hajj deaths have been avoided?
Once an event has occurred, we as Muslims understand this as part of the decree of Allah swt, but the aforementioned detailed, this does not stop us from analysing the culpability of those who may have fallen criminally short of fulfilling what was within their sphere of control.
The Prophet (saw) explained how to seek precautions while still relying upon Allah swt. Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I untie her and trust in Allah?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” (Hasan, Tirmidhi)
4. Were the Saudi rulers at fault for the deaths?
The head of Saudi’s civil defence authority, Suleiman al-Amr, said high winds during a storm caused the disaster.
Within a few hours of the deaths from the stampede in Mina, Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement, “The stampede was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities,” a few days later Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the head of the central Hajj committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, blamed the stampede on ‘some pilgrims with African nationalities’. The state-run Saudi Press Agency reported that the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh said in relation to the stampede, “You are not responsible for what happened because you exerted beneficial reasons in your hands and your ability,” the Grand Mufti was quoted as saying.
Clearly the Saudi regime is seeking to displace the blame from themselves even before any meaningful investigation has been conducted. This tends to lend credibility that the Saudi authorities are trying to gloss over their own mismanagement.
For instance, why did only one of the cranes collapse as opposed to all of them? And why was it that whilst winds were travelling at a speed of 60kph (37mph), an unsecured mobile crane fell over backwards onto the Haram? This is well below the tolerance level that cranes are tested at; indeed, cranes undergo testing under all types of weather conditions including lightning strikes. Clearly these are serious questions that need to be answered as opposed to the current approach, which is simply to claim it was an act of God. One of the senior Saudi engineers working for the Bin Laden group claimed, “I can only say that what happened was beyond the power of humans. It was an act of God and, to my knowledge, there was no human fault in it at all.”
Similarly, stampedes do not occur at every Hajj, so what precipitated this one? Why were there no proper controls over the inflow and outflow of people? And why claim that the fault lies with the hujjaj when the control over large crowds is a responsibility for the Hajj organisers? There are even questions over certain unverified reports that claimed roads were blocked to allow the Saudi prince to arrive in his motor parade to perform the jummarat. Those who have been on Hajj are well aware of how areas of the Haram are closed off for the kings and princes to perform their tawaf or enter the Ka’aba thus causing congestion and hardship amongst the Muslims.
The key problem in establishing the facts and the causes behind these deaths is that the Saudi regime is a monarchy and operates as though they are above the law. There’s no independent court system like under the Khilafah (Mahkamat madhalim that investigates abuses by those in power), nor do they allow the Ummah to account their rulers by the framework of the Shari’ah. The lack of transparency, the lack of application of the Shari’ah, the fact that the regime have apparently already concluded the hujjaj are to blame before any investigation and the past abuses of the Saudi regime has resulted in a complete loss of trust and confidence in the Saudi regime and its ability to objectively investigate their own potential failings over the death of the hujjaj.
We are well aware that this life is nothing but a test. This tragedy should be looked at as a means of forgiveness from sin and a chance for reward in the afterlife. Also it is a means for the Ummah to look deeply at the infrastructure of Mecca and the role of the rulers who are obliged to look after the affairs of the believers to their utmost and if they fall short then they should be accounted. And in the case of the Saudi regime it should be removed and replaced with a sincere Islamic leadership, Khilafah Rashida, that does not neglect the comprehensive implementation of Islam.
May Allah cure the wounded, heal the hearts of the families (whom have lost their loved ones) and protect the all the Believers during the rest of their pilgrimage.