BY SHANNON WILEY
More than 700 Muslims were killed, as well as 800 more injured, in a stampede of worshipers one week ago during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
However, this tragedy has not discouraged the faith of many Muslims.
This year’s stampede caused the most deaths in 25 years, but there have been hundreds of deaths during Hajj throughout it’s history.
Still though, the Hajj brings millions of Muslims to Mecca and other surrounding Holy places each year. In fact, attendance at the pilgrimage has increased as the years continue.
This, in addition to the event remaining the most encouraged pillar of the religion, could be due to Muslim’s seeing the tragedies as risks worth taking for God.
“One thing people have to remember is that a lot of people die when they do the pilgrimage to Mecca,” Salisbury University Muslim Student Association public relations manager Lateefat Yusaff said. “It’s a very physical thing, a lot of people in one space, and it’s really sad that people went there to get closer to God and died. But honestly, and I think I can speak for the majority of Muslims, if you had to die somewhere that would be the best place and the best time.”
Yusaff said that when she first heard about the stampede, she was shocked that it happened in Mecca. But very quickly, her perspective changed on the event.
“The next second I was like ‘wow, how beautiful is that, that that’s how you died,'” she said. “You’re last words were praising God, your last words were in the holy place, the most holy place for us in the world.”
In Islam, it is taught that if one dies while doing Hajj, they will have immediate access to Heaven.
“I think that that would be the best way to die,” Yusaff said.
Although there has been no outcry for Hajj to be fundamentally changed, many Muslims and non-Muslims are still questioning Saudi Arabia, claiming that the government has not done enough to protect and support the growing numbers of pilgrims.
Further, Iran has threatened “‘tough and harsh’ retaliation against Saudi Arabia, according to CNN, saying that the bodies of the stampede victims have not been sent back to their homes quickly enough.
Saudi Arabia, however, has begun to make major changes to the holy cities, including a 30-year long, $227 billion project in order to better accommodate the increasing numbers.
Yusaff said that she is planning on going to Hajj, but later in life although she has the means to now.
“One of my biggest dreams is to go to Hajj, but I want it to be a spiritual thing,” she said. “I want to make sure that I’m going for the right reasons, for the sole purpose of God, and not just because I’ve always wanted to.”
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is regarded as “the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity” according to the Saudi Embassy.
The journey follows the path of the Muslim prophet Muhammad on his last trip to Mecca before his death, the path he followed tracing the path the Abraham, who is regarded as the first prophet in Islam, and his family took.
“It’s basically a way to solidify your relationship with God, to give yourself to God” Yusuff said. “It’s a way to detach yourself from the rest of the world, the troubles, the problems in the world. It reminds you why you’re here. And it brings people together to remind you that at the end of the day, even after you leave, you’re all still one people.”