Hajj Stampede – What to do?

In the Hajj of 2015, the most unfortunate catastrophe befell the Muslim Ummah when well over two thousand Muslims lost their lives in a stampede. The stampede occurred near the Jamarat Bridge, at the intersection of street 204 and 223, when two crowds were diverted into a single street. Even though since then crowd management and traffic control have been given even more weight by the Saudi Authorities, nevertheless it is of the utmost importance to know how stampedes happen and what to do in such a case.

The stampede in 2015 was most unfortunate. It was noted that in that year Makkah had experienced the highest temperatures in twenty years. The stoning of the devil at the Jamarat is the most dangerous rite of the Hajj when it comes to crowd management and since it is also the last rite of the Hajj, pilgrims are often exhausted, tired and with less patience. Stampedes are usually referred to as the mindless or haphazard movement of a crowd, which is why civil engineers and crowd management experts do not recognize this as a ‘stampede’ per say but as a ‘progressive crush’. Usually, in the hajj, and particularly at the Jamarat, there are six to eight pilgrims packed per square meter area. At these crowd densities, the crowd starts to behave like a fluid, and the principles of fluid dynamics also begin to be applicable in discerning the behavior of the crowd. At these densities, if a person falls or someone bends down to pick the fallen, the space that is created is involuntarily filled by the moving crowd coming from behind, creating a ‘sink’ where people could stumble and ‘fall’ into. Shock waves travel through the entire length of the crowd, jolting all those who are already packed too tightly in the crowd. Those who are standing might not be able to draw a breath, due to the constant external pressure and succumb to suffocation.

The exact cause of the stampede is still shrouded in mystery. Some tend to blame “a few pilgrims of African nationalities”, others the “misjudgment of inconsiderate aristocrats” and some just consider it as an “act of fate”. Needless to say, the 2015 stampede became a more politicised event in Middle Eastern geopolitics than it should have been. However, lessons need to be learned from it.

Keep Cool

The Saudi Government has done its utmost to provide oxygenated industrial grade air conditioners for the pilgrims, yet dehydration is still going to be a major problem. Makkah is a city that remains hot throughout the year. So drink up, keep in the shade and carry an umbrella. While on the way back to the Jamarat, to stone the devils, know that this is a critical part of the Hajj. Do not let the heat or crowd anxiety cloud your better judgment. And never lose your patience. Allah has brought you here, you are His guest and He will lookout for you. So don’t take matters into your own hands.

Stay on your feet

No matter what you do, no matter what got dropped out of your pocket, just do not let yourself fall or bend down towards the ground, because if you do you will stay there until all the crowd has moved on above you. We can not emphasize this anymore. Please stay on your feet, your primary instinct in these jam-packed crowds should not be to panic but to just to keep calm and stay on your feet, planted firmly on the ground, withstanding any shockwave that might comes from any side towards you.

Conserve your energy

Do not push, or shove people out of the way. Conserve this energy to move when the crowd moves and remain vigilant. They are not going anywhere and neither are you. Pushing people might result in them falling down, making a ‘sink’ that the crowd behind you is going to push you into. Also, small pushes from everyone modulate and add into shock waves that travel through the entire crowd. So just do not push, not even slightly.

Communicate like a boxer

When in such a predicament, use sign language to communicate with your family and loved ones. Point, wave, call or clap to attract their attention and let them know where you are and where do you intend to go. Once done, place your arms and hands over your chest like a boxer. This will prevent your chest from getting jolted, and in case of a squeeze, would give your lungs room to expand to inhale air.

How to move

Be patient, but if there is an emergency and you need to move quickly, the best way to move out of the crowd is to move diagonally out. Try to zigzag your way out rather than just move straight head-on. There is always some distance between a few people ahead of you, use it to your advantage. This is only in the case of an emergency, doing this often and by many people would again disrupt in the fluidity of the moving crowd, creating a stampede. Also in case you need saving and are having trouble breathing, ask the crowd around to lift you up, over them. Crowds tend to be heroic and compassionate, so if you see an arm reaching out for help, quickly grab it before people start tripping over and have the crowd around you lift that person to get air.

May Allah keep us in His graces and forgive us of our mistakes and our impatient attitudes. May Allah protect us and our loved ones from any accidents, be they in or out of the Haram, and make every Hajj a grand event of Muslim endurance, brotherhood and tranquility.