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Thousands of UAE pilgrims escape Haj stampede

ABU DHABI // Thousands of UAE pilgrims escaped a stampede near Mecca on Thursday that claimed the lives of hundreds on the first day of Eid Al Adha.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, sent a cable to King Salman of Saudi Arabia expressing condolences and sympathy for the victims of the stampede.

UAE pilgrims were safe and well, with their camps far from the site where the crush occurred, said Dr Mohammed Mattar Al Kaabi, chairman of the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments and head of the UAE Haj mission.

Sheikh Mohammed also asked about the well-being of local pilgrims. Dr Al Kaabi said Sheikh Mohammed was “very keen to follow the impact of the tragic accident and be assured about the safety and well-being of the UAE’s pilgrims”, according to Wam, the state news agency.

Sheikh Mohammed prayed for the safety of all the UAE’s pilgrims, wishing them success in the remainder of the rituals. He also prayed to Allah Almighty to bestow His mercy on the victims and wished speedy recoveries to those injured.

The crush occurred near camp Mina, a tent city erected to provide temporary accommodations to visiting pilgrims, which is situated near Jamarat, where pilgrims ritually stone the Devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.

More flexibility in the order in which pilgrims perform the ritual as well as better organisation of the groups of pilgrims by the authorities could have helped to prevent the tragedy, suggested one UAE pilgrim.

“At the moment the order in which they carry out the rituals is up to individual groups,” said Osama Al Hatmi, who was performing his first Haj with his wife.

On the third day of Haj, also the first day of Eid, pilgrims are required to perform four separate rituals before the end of the day: Ramy Al Jamarat (stoning of the Devil), Al Adha (animal sacrifice), Halak (hair removal) and Tawaf Al Ifada (circling the Kaaba).

Mr Al Hatmi said most groups carry out the rituals in that order, which causes bottlenecks at particular locations in at specific times of the day.

Knowing the majority of pilgrims would begin at Jamarat, Mr Al Hatmi’s group of 30, made up of 26 Emiratis and four UAE expatriates, opted to first head to the Kaaba to perform the Tawaf.

“The problem is too many pilgrims are too strict in their interpretations and all of them head to Jamarat. Thank Allah we decided to do it differently.”

Mr Al Hatmi first learned of Thursday’s events when his family and friends contacted him from Abu Dhabi to make sure he was all right.

The 31-year-old Emirati said that despite the high death toll, he felt safe enough to continue and complete his first Haj.

“The Emirati groups are highly organised and our bus rides drop us off just a few steps away from our tents,” he said.

Mr Al Hatmi and his wife were part of a group that was one of 130 sent to Saudi Arabia by the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments, or Awqaf. The crush occured on the first day of Eid Al Adha.

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(via The National)