Seares: Stampede at Hajj: ‘Where was Allah?’

"(It is not an act of God.) It is an act of nature. Nature is morally blind, without values. It churns along, following its own laws, not caring who or what gets in the way."
-- Harold S. Kushner, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" (1981)

DURING Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, in the ritual known as "stoning of the devil," a stampede last Sept. 24 left more than 700 people dead and hundreds injured. Less than two weeks earlier, a crane collapsed at Mecca's Grand Mosque; the toll: 107 dead and also hundreds injured.

On July 2, 1993, at a fluvial procession of the Holy Cross in Bocaue, Bulacan, the pagoda sank, drowning more than 200 Filipino devotees. On Sept. 16, 1972, at Peñafrancia fluvial procession in Naga City, the Colgante Bridge collapsed, killing more than a hundred people. The annual Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo, Manila brings participants to near disaster.

The question might have been asked: "Was Allah at Hajj?" "Where was God in Bocaue and Peñafrancia?" Or that was no longer asked because the devotees knew better.

In the "stoning" ritual, it was the "sudden surge in the crowd" that resulted in overcrowding and bodies falling or being stomped on. In the pagoda tragedy, the defectively built barge and people rushing to one side caused the sinking. (Not Mrs. Imelda Marcos who boarded the barge.)

The danger persists year after year and yet the faithful continue to risk it. Structures can be strengthened but how do organizers cope with religious hysteria?

Blaming Lord

As to blaming Allah or God, would this be, paraphrasing Kushner, a better world if the religious were immune to laws of nature because God loved them more while the rest of us had to fend to for ourselves? A bridge or a boat should hold, because devotees are special to God, even if by law of physics it should collapse or sink?

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