Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Mina stampede must not recur

The 205,000 Indonesian pilgrims heading back home from Mecca this year will have had a variety of experiences, be they good or bad. However, the tragedy at Mina -- the stampede at the devil- pelting ritual in which 57 Indonesians were killed -- is likely to be at the forefront of their minds.

The Indonesian casualties could have been avoided if the victims abided by the schedules set for their rituals. The stampede is proof of the negligence on the part of the Indonesian haj management -- they must be held responsible for the tragedy. The management did not notify the Indonesians about the Saudi government's arrangements -- an allocated time schedule for Indonesian pilgrims.

The Indonesian government could not have lodged any protest with the Saudi government as suggested by Muhammadyah organization chairman Syafii Maarif (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 5), because the time schedules for the rituals had been clearly arranged beforehand. Instead, we should blame the head of each haj group, as the government has decreed that groups of 10 pilgrims should be headed by a leader experienced in handling pilgrimage rituals, who is fully aware of time schedules. Devil-pelting rituals are the most difficult to coordinate besides the non-compulsory kissing of the black stone (hajar aswad) attached to one of the four Kaaba's corners.

We must lend our support to the government's plan to reorganize the haj management, following the recent failure of about 30,000 would-be pilgrims to depart to Saudi Arabia. We should also welcome the Ministry of Religious Affairs' willingness not to monopolize haj management in the future, leaving it to professional organizers to plan against chaos and tragedy.

M. RUSDI Jakarta