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The Hajj (حج) is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. It is an obligatory duty (fard الفرض) for physically and financially capable Muslims, and constitutes one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The pilgrimage takes place on the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, between the 7th and 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. Those who fail, despite their capability, to complete the Hajj at least once during their life times may have others complete it on their behalf, so as to avoid torment in the hereafter. The Umrah, on the other hand, is a voluntary and less ritually-intensive version of the Hajj that can be done at any time of the year.


The Hajj, along with the Ka'aba, the black stone, and many other aspects of Islam, are most likely pagan in origin and lack explicit mention in Judeo-Christian scriptures. Islamic scriptures, however, teach that these practices extend thousands of years into the past, back to the time of Abraham, who they credit with having constructed the Ka'bah and founded Mecca.


The main rituals include walking seven times around the Ka'aba, touching the Black Stone, traveling seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah, drinking Zamzam water, praying at Mount Arafat, spending a night at Muzdalifa, symbolically stoning the Devil in Mina, shaving or trimming one's hair, and sacrificing an animal.[1] The Hajj ends with the global three-day celebration of Eid al-Adha, commemorating the attempted child sacrifice of Abraham.

Incidents and Accidents

The Ka'aba is believed to be the "House of Allah" and the Qur'an tells us it's an "asylum of security for men".[2] Despite being characterized as region protected by God (literally referred to as the "haram", or "sanctified/prohibited place"), the history of the Ka'aba's locale is replete with catastrophes of every sort.

Since 1987, officially there have been at least 3,315 deaths and another 1,500 injuries resulting from various accidents during the pilgrimage. These figures are extremely conservative, considering (for example) the 1994 stampede in Mecca. Officially only 250 people had died as a result of the stampede, and according to The Saudi Press Agency a total of 829 pilgrims had died during the pilgrimage for a variety of reasons, which included "old age, heart attacks" and "deaths that resulted because of the heavy throngs throwing pebbles on Monday." However witnesses, doctors and a senior Asian diplomat had said the death toll for the stampede alone could have been over 1,000.[3]

Death Toll Event Year
200 Fire in a Tent Colony[4] 1975
382 Grand Mosque seizure[5] 1979
402 Mecca Massacre[6] 1987
1,426 Stampede inside Al-Ma'asim Tunnel (most deadly stampede in history)[7] 1990
250 Stampede at the Stoning of the Devil Ritual[3] 1994
343 Tent Fire in Mina[4] 1997
118 Incident on Jamarat Bridge[8] 1998
35 Stampede at the Stoning of the Devil ritual[9] 2001
14 Stampede at the Hajj[10] 2003
251 Stampede during the Stoning ritual in Mina[11] 2004
346 Stampede during the ritual Al-Jamarat on the last day of the Hajj[11] 2006
76 Al Ghaza Hotel Collapse[12] 2006
77 Saudi floods[13] 2009
5 Swine Flu deaths at Hajj[14] 2009
Other Muslim pilgrimage incidents

Health and Hygiene

One of the first hajj preparations for Muslim pilgrims include a vaccine against disease. The number of foreign pilgrims regularly number in the millions and the sheer number of people, as well as their close proximity to each other in crowded sites can cause disease to spread quickly between the pilgrims. In 1987 an international outbreak of meningitis became a primary concern. Due to global (post-Hajj) outbreaks of certain types of meningitis in previous years, it is now a visa requirement to be immunized with the ACW135Y vaccine before arrival. Other vaccines are also commonly issued due to similar concerns about the propagation of disease when Muslims return from pilgramage.[15][16]

Performing the Hajj is also a physically exhausting exercise, and this exhaustion is a common cause of death among pilgrims. In 2011, twenty pregnant women suffered from miscarriages on the first day of the rituals because of exhaustion. Dr Walid al-Omari, director of the obstetrics and paediatrics hospital in Mecca said, "The miscarriages were caused mainly by fatigue as those women had to walk a long distance… another reason is they are surrounded by a large crowd and this makes them vulnerable to pushing and physical injury".[17]

External links


  1. Hoiberg (2000), p.237–238
  2. "...Allah made the Ka'ba, the Sacred House, an asylum of security for men, as also the Sacred Months, the animals for offerings, and the garlands that mark them..." - Quran 5:97
  3. 3.0 3.1 At Least 250 Muslims Die in Mecca Stampede - The New York Times, May 25, 1994
  4. 4.0 4.1 Michael Brunton - Hazardous Hajj - TIME, January 15, 2006
  5. Robin Wright - Sacred rage: the wrath of militant Islam (p.148) - Published by Touchstone; Upd Sub edition, December 4, 2001, ISBN: 978-0743233422
  6. Keith McLachlan - Iran and the Continuing Crisis in the Persian Gulf - GeoJournal, Vol.28, Issue 3, November 1992, Pg.359
  7. Nobert Bermosa - Top 10 Deadly Accidents & Disasters - The List Blog, October 7, 2009
  8. Saudis identifying nationalities of 118 dead pilgrims - BBC News, April 9, 1998
  9. Amr Nabil - 35 die in pilgrimage stampede Tragedy once again strikes as 2 million attend Muslim hajj - The Free Library (originally from The Seattle Times), March 6, 2001
  10. Fourteen killed in Hajj stampede - BBC News, February 11, 2003
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hundreds killed in Hajj stampede - BBC News, February 1, 2004
  12. John Esterbrook - Mecca Death Toll At 76: Deadly Building Collapse Mars Start Of Hajj - CBS News, January 12, 2006
  13. Jason Ramsey - 77 Muslims killed while performing Hajj by Saudi floods - Top News, November 27, 2009
  14. Edward Yeranian - Saudi Health Minister: Five Swine Flu Deaths During Hajj - VOA News, November 29, 2009
  15. Science correspondent, Ania Lichtarowicz - Vaccine call for Hajj pilgrims - BBC News, August 16, 2002
  16. More than 2.3 million pilgrims perform the Hajj this year - Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, December 30, 2006
  17. 20 miscarriage cases in Haj - Emirates 24/7 News, November 5, 2011