New Delhi: Muslim religious leaders in India reacted with grief and shock over the stampede near Mina in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. Some felt it was time the Saudi authorities limited the number of pilgrims visiting the country for Haj.
By Thursday evening, the toll rose to 717, while at least 863 people were injured.
"The Saudi government makes excellent arrangements. If people are disciplined, such incidents won't take place," Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rehmani, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), told IANS over the phone from Hyderabad.
"People come from all over the world, speak different languages, and have different attitudes. Normally, Indian Hajis are disciplined. Every year, the highest number of Hajis visit Saudi Arabia from Indonesia, followed by Indians. Sometimes, people are over-enthusiastic. The Saudi authorities should control the number of pilgrims," Rehmani added.
Firoz Bakht Ahmed, a Delhi-based educationist and social worker, concurred with Rehmani, and said the number of pilgrims should be controlled.
"It (the stampede) is a matter of great trepidation for the entire Muslim community across the world. Apart from the excellent arrangements made by the Saudis, the indisciplined Hajis break all the rules... high time the Saudi authorities limited the number of Hajis," Ahmed said.
Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad told IANS that devotees getting killed while performing Haj in Saudi Arabia was "very unfortunate".
"It's a mega event, the most religious for Muslims of the entire world, and I feel that the Saudi government must be more careful while making arrangements for such a huge programme," he said.
He said Haj was compulsory for every Muslim, if he or she could afford it, so it was obvious that lakhs of people would reach there every year for the pilgrimage.
Kamal Faruqui, executive member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, and former chairperson of the Minority Commission, however, said accidents take place despite arrangements being made on a grand scale by the Saudis.
"Earlier, there would be stampedes even with smaller numbers involved. Now there are huge arrangements, but the concentration of people is also very high.
"Unfortunately some people are in a hurry, others are separated from their loved ones, and others simply might be taking a short-cut and going against the flow of pilgrims.
"The road that leads up to Mina where the devout stone the devil in a recreation of the Prophet's act, is one-way, and the pilgrims are supposed to carry on in one direction. Some people decide to go in the reverse direction," Faruqui told IANS.
"This is the highest toll in years -- 1,400 Hajis died in the tunnel incident in 1990. About 200,000 have gone to Haj this year from India," said Faruqui.
Speaking to IANS over phone, Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari of Jama Masjid also expressed condolences over the loss of life.
He said the Saudi government usually makes good arrangements for the annual event but "god knows what went wrong this year that so many people have lost their lives".
"Only details from the spot would make the picture clear as to what could have gone wrong while people in large number were busy performing Haj rituals," he said.
He said the Indian government, however, has very little to do after the Hajis reach the place of pilgrimage.