Friday, October 23, 2015

HARAMAYNIC TEARS OF DECEPTION (3)












                                                           Haramayn High Speed Rail 


As I have earlier mentioned, it is quite apparent that either Tears for The Haramayn was more about fiction than fact or the author was ignorant about the matters of Hajj and its logistics. This is not to mention the chasm of ignorance in religious matters with which the article was littered. Often times people mistake oratory and good diction for knowledge and scholarship. Those who are taken in by the write-up find themselves making that mistake. Armchair critics are often critical of everything and everyone but themselves. They come across as knowing more than the rest of us combined. However, that projection is usually false, as you will discover.

Adamu Adamu wrote, “… that forest of cranes over the Masjid al-Haram should have been disabled and stood down but that would have happened if the lives of the pilgrims were of consequence to the authorities. As was visible from the horrendous pictures beamed by social media, even after the collapse, there was no rapid response by first aid groups, by the civil defence or by paramedics during the crucial moments in its immediate aftermath.”


The charges are far from true. This is because all footages of the crane collapse were short and unclear. No one could reasonably use those videos as evidence of poor response time. On the contrary, we have the Twitter posts of pilgrims who were right within the Haram confirming that the evacuation of the dead and wounded was quick and order was restored quickly.


To further demonstrate his disdain for the government of the KSA, our friend went further, “The provision of a safe environment, the necessity for a methodology of ensuring orderly conduct, the need for providing logistics for round-the-clock regulation of human traffic and showing human sympathy and Islamic hospitality to the guests of Allah are never among their priorities.”
This is despite the fact that what obtains is quite the opposite. In fact, in controlling human and vehicular traffic, we often see the measures the Saudi authorities put in place as too strict. For the most part, they curtail movements through an entry or exit point in more than one direction. This is to stop disorderly conduct.

There is an array of crowd control barriers in bright colours everywhere in Saudia. To borrow from Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon, they are visible to the blind and audible to the deaf. The author did not marvel at the fact that no one has been crushed at the Ka’bah despite the multitude and the overzealousness of many worshippers who try to touch the Black Stone. It did not occur to him there is always a uniformed officer guiding people and guarding the Black Stone corner. The officer carries neither whip nor baton not to mention a gun. Warning lights stop people from gaining entry into the main courtyard of the Grand Mosque when it is filled to capacity. A green light signifies there is still space and specifies where there is space; either upstairs or on the ground floor. To enforce compliance, there are security personnel to turn erring pilgrims back at the entrances. This happens, to use the parlance, 24/7. 


Pray tell us what these measures demonstrate if not provision of logistics for round-the-clock regulation of human traffic. What do the chilled water fountains at every few hundred metres from which many quench their thirst represent? What is the purpose of the famous sabeel pilgrims get as gifts all the time? Why do their hospitals treat all pilgrims free and give free drugs? Do those measures count as showing human sympathy and Islamic hospitality to the guests of Allah? The cranes he roundly condemned are part of an on-going expansion project to decongest the mosque and accommodate more pilgrims- in order words, to reduce the crowd and make things easier for the guests of Allah. People more exposed and more knowledgeable in these matters have given due credit for the outstanding work at the Haramayn; work, which has not stopped the worship in the mosques. While pilgrims made tawaaf, their engineers safely and unobtrusively installed the circular platform around the Ka’bah known as the Mataaf. They have done several expansions of the Mosque at huge costs without collecting a dime from Iran or any nation for that matter.


You only need to watch the cleaning of the mosques round the clock; the disinfection and washing of the floor every few hours without disrupting the worshippers’ activities significantly, the seemingly superhuman crowd control by a few without the objects of coercion to do so. They just urge patience and forbearance. However, as the proverb goes, “In the eyes of one’s enemies, one’s horse is never tall”. All these evaded the notice of critics.


In Tears for the Haramayn, the author wrote, “If they really cared about the lives of the pilgrims, they would have paid more attention to their safety and comfort. If they cared about the fate of the pilgrims, they would, for instance, have laid the foundations of fast and comfortable railway links to connect Jeddah to Mecca and Medina”.  


Any sane person who knows the Haram as it was and how it is presently can only pray for the initiators of the changes.  Intriguingly, the writer is not aware of the Haramayn High Speed Rail project commissioned since 2009 by KSA, to link Madeenah, Makkah and Jeddah. It is ‘planned to provide a safe and comfortable transport in 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph) electric trains.’ When completed in 2016, the railway will help ‘relieve traffic congestion,’ and serve about three million Hajj and Umrah passengers during the pilgrimages. KSA did not wait for the goading of bilious critics to start this project seven years ago.



If they really care about pilgrims, they would have concentrated on providing affordable hostels to the majority of the poor who cannot afford the international hotels they are busy erecting on the graves, homes and history of the first Muslims, instead of leaving them to the mercy of shylock Saudi landlords with their substandard, unfurnished accommodations.”


On whose graves did the Saudi authorities build? Islam forbids grave worship and its associated heresies. It is also forbidden to knowingly build any structure over a grave. The buildings currently around the Haram have been marked for demolition. They shall give way by the 25th year of their existence to more expansions. Indeed the prices of the hotels around the Haram are steep but we must remember land is at a premium the closer you get to the Haram. There are cheap, pilgrims’ apartments, which less privileged pilgrims rent for the period of their stay. In fact, such buildings are the bread and butter of the State Pilgrims Welfare Boards. The only things you sacrifice are proximity and comfort.

Let us look at another claim. “Within the last decade, that is even after they have only reluctantly and perfunctorily taken some of the suggested steps, for instance, there was no year in which hundreds of pilgrims didn’t die in the scramble of those days.”


Before the two incidents this year, the last time a crowd crush incident occurred in Minaa was in 12th January 2006 when a busload of pilgrims overwhelmed the security personnel and caused a crowd crush. Before then, there was and incidence in 2004, 2003 (the only succeeding years of a disaster), 2001, 1998, 1994 and 1990. There were fires in Minaa in 1975, 1997 and 2011. The last was a train coach fire that claimed a couple. The fire of 1975 was a gas cylinder explosion while the 1997 fire was a tent fire. Tents have been made from fireproof materials since then. The last decade would refer to 2005 to 2015. Only three cases happened in that time and two of the three were in the same year (2015). The aim is not to trivialise the incidents and the lives lost during them but to exaggerate them for whatever reasons is equally bad. I do not think that anyone who knew how the Jamaraat area used to be would accuse the Saudi government honestly or fairly of being reluctant or uncaring.


Every year presents new challenges. Among the most unruly pilgrims are those who come from Iran. During the 1987 hajj, they staged a riot. About 400 people died. In July 1989, a bomb went off at the Haram. 16 Shiites from Kuwait were executed in connection with the incidence. In 2009, they desecrated the grave of Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet (PBUH), in Al Baqee in Madeenah, forcing their way into the graveyard and claiming to have located the grave of our mother, ‘Aishah. They stamped on the grave and cursed its occupant and calling the dead names too filthy to print or recount.


Those who think these people should have control of the Haramayn and who parrot their hateful statements should think twice and fear Allah. They should take a leaf from what Allah said, “O ye who believe! Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (them ye are). So follow not passion lest ye lapse (from truth) and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever Informed of what ye do.” Q4: 135   












Monday, October 19, 2015

HARAMAYNIC TEARS OF DECEPTION (2)

But Adamu Adamu wrote, ‘Many eye-witnesses blame the stampede on the Deputy Crown Prince who arrived with a 350-man strong escort; and, to enable him cast his stones at the Jamarat, the flow of pilgrims was barricaded. This forced a backward flow of pilgrims and unleashed a stampede unparalleled in scope and in casualties. Eyewitnesses now speak of more than 2000 people dead. Luckily, every step of the tragedy had been caught on tape by social media buffs;…’  


Firstly, these so-called eyewitnesses must be demons who could behold what humans cannot see. What is more painful is the fact that this fairytale is disseminated by a veteran journalist who knows more than ordinary people the etiquette and ethics of his calling. Real eyewitnesses were saying there were not enough security personnel at the time, making it possible for some pilgrims to return from a wrong direction; how could there be ‘a 350-man strong escort’ on the scene. If ‘every step of the tragedy had been caught on tape..’, as falsely claimed by the writer, where is the footage of these 350 strong escort? 


Secondly, it was the Lebanese newspaper, Ad-Diyaar and the Iranian Press TV that started spreading this obvious falsehood. The Press TV is notorious for spreading fake information as a form of propaganda. An easy one that comes to mind is the recent Syrian refugee situation, which saw a large number of Syrians fleeing into European countries. Press TV reported that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States have not helped the refugees at a time Saudi Arabia alone was hosting over half a million of the refugees. This is apart from millions of dollars in aid over a four-year period. It is therefore not new to read thrash from the duo.


The tapes making the round on social media are the ones on the scene of the crush, some of them too distressing to watch. They did not depict anything on the cause of what happened. There was one tape that went viral on the social media, in line with Adamu Adamu’s ‘flow-of-pilgrims-was-barricaded’ position, but which, for those with knowledge of video editing, was clearly tampered with, and ended up showing nothing other than a gate was forced opened, and the pilgrims dispersing. 


Another footage showed two people in a car throwing stones at the Jamaraat; they were not in Ihraam. A note and an image were attached to the tape stating that the stone thrower was ‘the Deputy Crown Prince’. But the footage failed to show any other person aside the two occupants of the car; no crowd of pilgrims in the entire Jamaraat area at the peak of the first day of the stoning ritual; no traces whatsoever of Adamu Adamu’s ‘350-man strong escort’. The whole episode of this clip has betrayed the ignorance of its proponents on the rites of Hajj, and Royal Movements in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The man throwing stones at the Jamaraat was neither ‘the Deputy Crown Prince’, nor was he even a pilgrim. On the day of the crush, all pilgrims were in their ihraam. The propagators of that malicious campaign were ignorant of the fact that a member of the Royal Family is bound by certain traditions vis-a-vis his tunic when he appears in public – the thobe, ghutra, and bisht…all have to conform to set standards. For those who know, even a fleeting glance at the image of the man in the car is enough for one to vouch that he cannot be from the Royal Family; his thobe was not elegant; he had neither ghutra nor bisht- that is when you forget the fact that he ought to be in ihraam cloths.


The concocters of the tale of Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud blocking Street 206 are ignorant of the way the royals go to the Jamaraat Bridges and they seek to mislead the unwary. There are VIP tunnels from the Palace close to Minaa through which the royals and their guests reach the stoning area. It would be entirely purposeless to block a street they would not use. In more than 15 years of my annual Hajj experience, the Royal family has never stopped the movement of people to the stoning site because of a VIP.


Atassi Basman of Al Jazeera wrote, "For those who know the area where the stampede occurred, this report seems far from reality. The relatively humble area is far from the entrance to Mina and houses ordinary pilgrims arriving from outside of Saudi Arabia. Important personalities stay in areas close to the entrance and their convoys are assigned separate tunnels and roads to facilitate their movement."


On the crane accident preceding the Minaa disaster, Adamu wrote, “The government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is fully responsible for this tragedy. In the case of the crane collapse, it can no longer escape blame by blaming God, as if He acts without a cause; or try to pass the blame by holding the Bin Ladin family scapegoat, as if a contractor in the kingdom is supposed to supervise himself”.
It is very unfortunate that he has either decided that the preliminary report of the Saudi government based on investigations is false or that it does not fit into his plans and prejudice. He also made the Saudi government fit the crime he had in mind for it. He made it look as though they were a bunch of thirsty vampires who needed accidents to happen and blood to flow to sate their thirst.

He conveniently forgot to mention that the German-made Liebherr Group crawler crane LR 11350 involved in the incident is operated by the Saudi Binladin Group, who are heading the expansion of the Grand Mosque and also responsible for a large amount of major building contracts in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Binladin Group is the second largest construction company in the world. An engineer for the group said that the crane was erected in "an extremely professional way", and the accident was an "act of God". 

The German manufacturers sent their engineers to help in the investigation of the accident and to assist on site. They found no structural flaws in the crane but stated that the crane's 190-meter long boom was not sufficiently secured by its operators so as to withstand the high winds present on the day of the collapse, and that use of that crane in those 80–105 kph winds was well outside the manufacturer's recommended operating parameters. Eleven days before the accident, the Emir (Governor) of Mecca, had ordered the Binladin Group to relocate the crane from pedestrian areas and to deploy safeguards to prevent pilgrims entering the construction zone.


After the accident, all of the 100 cranes still present near the Haram were inspected and found to be safe. As compensation, King Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered that one million Saudi riyal (US$266,000) be paid as compensation to the families of those who died in the crane collapse, and that two relatives of each of the deceased are to be the King's guests for Hajj in 2016. Adamu’s fiction said, “they have thrown a cheque of $174,000 at the estate of each of the crane victims as diyyah”.


It is nothing short of amazing that in this age of near ubiquity of information, people still try to hoodwink the public with distorted facts. Nigerians are not fools. Just type ‘1 million riyals in USD’ into your Google search engine and you will see how false his figures are.


The Saudi King gave a million Riyals to each victim of the collapse with a permanent disability, and half a million riyal (US$133,000 as compensation to those victims without lasting injuries. King Salman also decreed that these compensation payments would not prevent private legal claims by the injured and families of the deceased.

All I have mentioned so far is available online and is verifiable. The one you will be hard-pressed to find except in Shi’ite media outlets or those of their supporters. 


Insha Allah, I shall continue next week.

Friday, October 9, 2015

HARAMAYNIC TEARS OF DECEPTION (1)

Minaa



“And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning).” (Q17: 36)


Is this a belated article? Aleatory responses to the tragedy on the way to the Jamaraat such as Adamu Adamu’s Tears for Haramayn, (Daily Trust of Friday September 25 2015, and October 2 2015), to my mind, will not serve the cause of objectivity and honest analysis of what occurred at the peak of Hajj 2015 operations. Tears for Haramayn is purposeless as Allah has endowed the Haramayn with a succession of dedicated and competent custodians who spare no expense in massively expanding, preserving and maintaining them; who, with erudite verdicts of sincere scholars, will avert any shirkiyyaat-desecration of the Haramayn by religious deviants, and false claimants of faith and love of the Prophet’s household. 


To begin with, the term ‘stampede’ is wrong and derogatory. A stampede is an act of mass impulse among herd animals or a crowd of people in which the herd (or crowd) collectively begins running with no clear direction or purpose. Academic experts who study crowd movements and crushing disasters oppose the use of the term "stampede". (Benedictus, Leo (October 3, 2015). "Hajj Crush: How Crowd Disasters Happen, and How They Can Be Avoided". The Guardian). Crowd behavioural experts like Anne Templeton argue that calling crowd collapses and crowd crushes stampedes imply that the crowds are animalistic or mindless; and this was not the case.


What happened in Minaa is not unique to Minaa; in fact, it has been the subject of much academic studies in Saudi Arabia. They have computer models of potential scenarios that could cause the tragedy. They even have people who have gone to study the phenomenon outside of the kingdom and who returned to head departments responsible for human and vehicular traffic. I will come to why such accidents happen in spite of all these later, inshaa Allah.

Genuine tears should be for the martyrs that died in the crush, and the loved ones they left behind.  Tears shed, not because the departed died in vain, but for love and care. Their end came to them while they were adorned in their ihraam; at the end of fulfilling one of the pillars of their religion; at the hallowed grounds of Minaa. If a Muhrim (a pilgrim in the state of ihraam) dies, their faces and heads are not covered; they are buried in their ihraam because on the Day of Judgement, they will raise from their graves chanting the talbiyah – Labbayk Allaahumma labbayk - answering Your call, Oh Lord.

I waited this long for the clouds of shock and anguish to abate, on the one hand. It also gave room for the political curtain encompassing the crowd crush/collapse to fall, to expose what was concealed behind it of blackmail, deep abhorrence against the Al Sa’ud, thus revealing the ardent desire of a people with Zoroastrian lineage to have control over the administration of the two inviolable places of worship, on the other.


I do not think the Saudi government is saintly; far from it. I know they have their faults; that is another matter. I know they can improve on the already very good services they are rendering to the guests of Allah; that is not my point, presently. What galls me, and of which the proponents should be ashamed, is the claim that they were nonchalant and cared little for their fellow Muslims from all over the world. Allah adjures us to be fair even to our mortal enemies.


The lies, the liars and the misinformed have grown in number and it is not fair; even against pagans to produce vicious lies and half-truths against a people just to find a reason to demand the handover of the two harams to a deviant sect. Although the Saudi government is very capable of defending itself, nonetheless, it is befitting that we all debunk the specious stories making the rounds on social media and elsewhere about the cause and aftermath of the mishap.

I write not as a sedentary critic far away from Saudi Arabia, parroting whatever comes to him from the social media and churning it to unsuspecting readers. I write as a Hajj tour operator who, like numerous other private Hajj organisers and state pilgrim officials, was leading groups of hajjis during this year’s pilgrimage. Our responsibility was to ensure the safety of all pilgrims in our groups from the time they depart Nigeria until they return home after completing their devotions in the holy territories. When disaster strikes leaving death and injury in its trail, therefore, we are worse affected because of the fiduciary duty that we owe our pilgrims. We take responsibility of whatever happens to them for the duration of the package that they paid to our companies. 

As I write this piece, an interim report on the crowd crush/collapse of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON) states that a total of 18 pilgrims that travelled through private Hajj companies have died, 25 are missing, while 11 sustained injuries. If you add this to the casualties among the state pilgrim arrangements, you arrive at the figures given by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) from its office in Makkah, of the dead from Nigerian pilgrims being 64, with 240 missing, and 75 injured.

AHUON’s monitoring team under the leadership of its President, Abdulfattah Abdulmajeed, moved tirelessly from one Saudi hospital to another, identifying bodies and speaking to the injured who survived the crowd crush/collapse. I must state here that the team easily identified pilgrims who died with their identity cards hung on their necks. Unless a relative was close by or somebody who knew the deceased, bodies of pilgrims without identity cards on them were hardly traced to any Hajj group. That is why we constantly adjure our pilgrims to carry, at all times, the identity cards we issue them for the Hajj operation. Another means of identification was the hand band which had certain numbers unique to the Hajj Field Office where the pilgrim’s passport is kept. Some of the bodies had neither identity cards nor hand band on them.

On account of AHUON’s findings, what I will present here is at variance with Adamu Adamu’s ‘Many eye-witnesses’ fiction; albeit, my desire is not to exculpate the Saudi Hajj authorities or the government of the Kingdom on what occasioned the crowd crush/collapse either, but to give honest record of events, and support the call for the inclusion of countries affected into the committee investigating the incident, as proposed by the Chairman of NAHCON, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar

The multitude left Muzdalifah for the first ritual at Jamaraat in Minaa, though the flood of pilgrims appeared to be at a standstill, people kept moving towards the stoning site. The pilgrims that had already preceded others have finished their stoning rites and were returning from the same direction.  Before these were others, who claimed to have been diverted, on their way to stoning, by security personnel, to follow a lane designated for pilgrims who have finished their ritual at Jamaraat, thus the two set of pilgrims collided with each other. Normally, the police and civil defence personnel would be there to enforce taking a different route by such pilgrims. The Jamaraat environment is such that every pilgrim would prefer to return from the route that they come from for the stoning, because it is more convenient and closer to wherever their tents are situated.  Taking a different route is longer but safer for all.


How these pilgrims were able to retrace their way to the same direction they came from unchallenged by the police, and in the process obstructed the movement of human traffic, could only be made clear by film footage of CCTV cameras that abound in the Jamaraat area.


Several eyewitnesses claim that the closure of Street 206 was the main reason behind crowd crush/ collapse in Minaa.


The closed eastern part of Street 206 left pilgrims with no choice but to go left through Street 223 and end up meeting the thousands of people coming from the opposite direction of Street 204. The narrow pathway is surrounded by camps and does not lead to other nearby streets.


In Mina, over 10 streets are used only for catering purposes and  by pilgrims going to and coming from the Jamaraat Bridge.


Street 204 links Minaa tents with the Jamaraat Bridge and is used by the pilgrims in camps located on each side of the street. Vehicles are not allowed on the street. It merges into Street 406 running from Muzdalifah, which links Muzdalifah with Mina and Al-Jamaraat Bridge. It is used by pedestrians and buses transporting pilgrims and is 1.5 km away from the Bridge, which was built 11 years ago at a cost of around SAR4.2 billion.


Contrary to Adamu Adamu’s fiction, in the last 8 years, no accident has taken place at the bridge or Minaa, even during the time when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flock to throw pebbles at the same time. This is because the bridge was designed in a way that prevents overcrowding and stampede. It is 950 meters long and 80 meters wide with five 12-meter-high floors as well as 12 entrances and 12 exits. The claim that hundreds have been dying every year must be called what it is; a lie!


You see, as Dr. Erwin Kirsch said, “Half-truths, because of their plausibility, are frequently more dangerous than downright falsehood.”


Street 204 leading to the Jamaraat was filled with pilgrims who were pressing onward the stagnant flood, some carrying infants on their arms, others assisting the aged and the weak on wheelchairs. The heat was intense, about 48 degrees Celsius; exhaustion set in amidst a constricted mass, majority of them had trekked from Arafaat to Muzdalifah and then Minaa.


Even at the sight of this impending catastrophe the personnel operating gates of special tents, (these are not Saudi security forces; they are private guards), on either side of street 204 refused to open them to give way to the surging wave of pilgrims. If the gates were opened, some pilgrims could have safely moved into the tents, and thus the constriction in the multitude would have been lightened. Moreover, these private guards at the entrances of the tents refused to give water to their dying brethren who were weakened by severe thirst, sweating profusely. This was quite unusual in Saudi Arabia where people, seeking Allah’s reward, are eager to give sustenance to pilgrims, be it during Ramadan or the Hajj season. The guards were deaf to all entreaties for water. Many victims simply died of dehydration in the sweltering heat.

People started gasping for air; ventilation was at its premium. Some climbed over the barricades into safety, while others were trampled, and slowly asphyxiated. It was a mini-Qiyaamah as nakedness of men in the presence of women and vice versa was not an issue. The wheelchairs compounded an already horrendous situation, causing the death of many that could have otherwise been saved. Some pilgrims who climbed over the fence forced the guards of the adjoining tents to open their refrigerators to give water to the dying hajjis. To many, the water came too late to save them.


No survivor or eyewitness can relate anything beyond what happened at the epicentre of the crush, just as people who were within the Jamaraat area could only speak concerning what they witnessed there. They knew nothing about the crush except what survivors and eyewitnesses told them. Therefore, survivors who spoke about the closure of roads as the cause of the crush had no justification for saying so, because they could not be at the two scenes at the same time - the epicentre of the crush, and the Jamaraat area. The two places are poles apart!