“Knowledge from which no benefit is derived is like a treasure out of which nothing is spent.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 108
One of the main obligatory acts Muslims perform during Hajj, is the stoning of symbolic pillars called Jamarat ‘Ula’, ‘Wusta’ and ‘Aqaba’. The pillars represent Iblis (Satan) and the act of stoning each 7 times represents a physical, symbolic and spiritual act to destroy the evil of Satan. Muslims seek to replicate what the 94 year old Prophet Ibrahim (AS), (Abraham) did as the devil attempted to sway him 3 times from sacrificing his only son Ismail (AS) to God as ordered in a dream he also had 3 times. At each appearance, Angel Jibril told Prophet Ibrahim(AS) to pelt the devil 7 times with stones, which he did and proceeded to attempt the sacrifice of his precious son.The devil also attempted to sway prophet Ibrahim’s faith by appearing to his wife Hajara and the young Ismail. The three of them resisted satanic influence, overcame their human emotions and won the test of faith. In the end, the sacrificial boy was replaced with a sacrificial lamb. The two horns of the ram, which Prophet Ibrahim slaughtered eventually, hung inside the Holy Ka’bah until 64 Hijiri during the reign of Abdullah bin Zubair when a fire destroyed the building and most of its contents.
By performing Hajj and stoning the devil for 3 days, Muslims reenact part of the story of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). The spiritual significance of stoning the pillars is an open declaration of enmity to the devil and an open expungement in various emotional degrees. The pillars can actually ‘become’ the devil for many, resulting in a charged atmosphere with a tense danger zone feeling. Historical antecedents do not help, so most pilgrims approach the Jamarat Bridge with pounding hearts and great trepidation. I performed a fulfilling Hajj this year with my Kebbi brothers, sisters and children. I give gratitude to Allah we finished it successfully and safely.
The original jamarats were obelisk structures, which many commentators say is a symbol of satan’s phallus, and is seen as an illuminati prize. Thus, there is equal confusion and accusation as to why the Saudi government decided to replace the obelisk with a wide wall in 2004. Some believe it was a lifesaving response to the ever-increasing number of pilgrims and stampedes, others believe the obelisk is important and that the renovations are fraudulent to conceal and protect Satan.
Both sides of this argument can be appreciated.
Aside from high number of pilgrims performing the rites at the same time, the zeal with which it is done causes further issues. For instance, I performed this year’s Hajj with the COO and medical coordinator of our Medicaid foundation Dr Surraiya Mansur; and Dr Aminu Aliyu (who was on the medical mission). Being a first timer, Dr Surraiya was not happy to pray with us in tents on Arafat day. She wanted to pray on the actual mountain peak. The confident and exuberant Dr Aminu gathered a pack of them zealots, enticing them with ride in the mission’s ambulance. Needless to say they were blocked halfway by the efficient and sharp Saudi traffic police and had to trek to and fro. The zealous Dr Surraiya eventually collapsed from sunstroke and Dr Aminu now had a real medical emergency to deal with. One of the first rules of staying alive during Hajj is: “Always Avoid First Time Pilgrims” Their enthusiasm presents a real and present danger to others.
In 2017, over 79,000 Nigerians out of 2.4M people worldwide performed Hajj. Although expected final numbers are slightly less for 2018, we still have a situation where over 2M people are concentrated in a land area of 20 km². The Jamarat area itself is just a bridge in the valley that has been remodeled several times over the years; leading to accusations that the Wahhabi led Saudi authorities is pushing innovations that will lead to rewriting the Sunnah steps of Hajj as practiced by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
There are further arguments that more people are dying of stampedes during Hajj despite the renovations. This might be so; but overall more people are performing Hajj yearly. In 2015 when 2,236 people died, 2M people performed Hajj. Compare to 270 deaths from the 1994 stampede when under 1M pilgrims entered Saudi Arabia for Hajj.
During the last remodeling of the Jamarat area, a new obelisk was erected at the peak of Arafat, another sacred spot in Islam where the Prophet gave his last speech. There was no such structure during the time of the Prophet, and the current obelisk can be considered an innovation or Bid’a. Obelisks are seen around the world in locations believed to be related to illuminati centers. Thus, an obelisk might be a logical representation of the devil at Jamarat. However, it is also reasonable NOT to expect one on Mount Arafat. A hadith (narrated by Bukhari) states that, “The end of the world will not come till the hajj (Pilgrimage) is abandoned”. The prophecized abandonment may be symbolic if the Hajj processes are gradually replaced with opposites.
Some innovations make sense and are necessary to save lives. For instance, widening the Jamarat bridges and raising a wall to cover 4 levels in place of the original cylindrical columns means more pilgrims can access the area with less threat of stampede. The post 2006 bridge (constructed by the Saudi Binladin Group) also has additional ramps and tunnels to ease out the bottlenecks where most stampede occur. Another decree (fatwa) much publicized of late, is the permission to perform stoning rites at anytime from sunrise to sunset. With a wider time interval, the previous crowd of pilgrims peak at noon when the sun is highest, is thinner. The new decree relaxes the zeal of some pilgrims, but not all.
An educated mind can relate to Saudi Arabia’s need to preserve lives with some of the innovations mentioned. It is the world’s leading oil exporter; the Saudi oil sector accounts for roughly 87% of their budget revenues and 90% of export earnings. On the other hand, jobs created by the roughly two million annual hajj pilgrims employs more people than the oil industry—40,000 temporary jobs (butchers, barbers, coach drivers, etc.)—and US$2–3 billion in revenue. Religion and wahhabism aside, no nation will jeopardize such income or remain passive while lives are lost. The predicament of the Saudi Arabian authorities regarding Hajj reminds me of the Rolling stones song from 1968, Sympathy for the Devil.
“Please allow me to introduce myself
I am a man of wealth and taste
I have been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste…”
Despite the innovations, experts are still working on the unique crowd problem in Mina. According to Keith Still, a professor of crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University consulted in 2004 by the Saudi authorities on the above designs for the new Jamarat Bridge, the overall problem remains. He agreed efficiency of the bridge would improve to handle 500,000 people an hour instead of the previous 200,000; but pressure would remain on other parts of the complex system, such as the Mina encampment where the layout has not changed. His opinion came true in 2015 when a catastrophic stampede was triggered from the intersection between streets 204 and 223. Nigeria had the third highest fatality figure after Iran and Mali. Another expert, Professor Edwin Galea, of the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich noted the 500,000 people per hour the Jamaraat Bridge will deliver equates to the population of Germany in a week and suggests spreading the Hajj over a longer period. Meanwhile, the need to stone the devil at all is questioned by Egyptian physician and feminist writer Nawal El Saadawi. Which of these expert suggestions amongst many others will the Saudi Authorities accept? When? What will they then be accused of?
There are many questions to ask here, that we do not necessarily have the answers to. Allah (SWT), knows best.
What is now obvious is that we have to accept a degree of technology and innovation into the religion. We do not complain when we fly to Saudi Arabia in jet planes in 5 hours instead of riding 3 years on camel back like our ancestors did. We do not complain when we watch Taraweeh prayers from the Haram streamed live to our cell phones in Birnin Kebbi. We do not complain about the $100B spent to increase the Harlan’s capacity to 2M We do not complain that we now have air conditioned tents, power points, bunkbeds (Lagos state Eko for show) and flushing toilets in the Mina camps. We do not complain about staying in tall 5 Star Hotels instead of under the wilderness on a mattress of sand and stones. So why should we be selective, view unfavorably and even challenge innovations used to ease some rites to help us deliver our obligations and improve our deen?
What is even more obvious is that the Muslim Ummah will keep increasing exponentially. The increase should not surprise us. Allah (SWT) says in suratul Thaariyaat “I built the heaven with power and it is I, who am expanding it.” (Qur’an, 51:47).
Founder Medicaid Cancer Foundation
23rd August 2018, Mecca.