VEGA News Item

The Imminent Hajj Pilgrimage, Sacrifices and Devotions - 05/11/2010

Mass Events in Tourism and Travel that Affront a Green View of the Numinous and Respect for Life

1. Pilgrims are beginning to assemble on landing at Jeddah’s airport for the welcome at the state-of-the-art Hajj terminal as they begin “a journey of a lifetime” to the major rituals of the Hajj after the Umrah preliminaries and the celebrations of the Eid ul-Fitr on the 9th September this year. The Hajj culminates in procedures observed from 14th November to 17th November and ending with the Eid ul-Adha on 16th November, with final rites the next day and return home.  The calendar of events for next year are already decided:  Eid ul-Fitr, 30th August; Hajj 4th November to 7th; Eid ul-Adha 6th November.  (Dates are subject to local sightings of the new moon.)

2. In previous years we have given details of the rituals, which involve an enormous throughput of sheep, cows (probably cattle of various ages, female and male) and camels, at its peak at the massacre on Eid ul-Adha.  A dish of baby camel meat, roasted whole, is served during the feasts at the end of Hajj.  During each Hajj Muslims kill about 700,000 sheep and 8,000 cattle or camels.  Some slaughterhouses “handle” 50,000 animals a day, with 28,000 butchers working for 3 days.  In 1982 King Fahd opened the world’s biggest slaughterhouse, with enough space for 500,000 sheep and cattle, whence the sacrificial meat and offal are frozen, preserved and distributed to Muslims everywhere.

Flouting the Quality of Mercy

3. The method of slaughter conforms to Muslim practice, the stricken animals’ throats are cut, to the recitations of prayers, with no attempt at “humanely” stunning them to render them insensitive to the pain of the assault and of the subsequent bleeding out until death supervenes.  This process is the cause of much controversy in Europe, where calls for bans of such ritual/religious slaughter are being sought for meat consumed in EU countries and fully labelled on provenance in common with other methods of killing in licensed premises.  These proposed controls may escape rigorous application, however, and – like Jewish methods, which are similarly offensive to populations numbering many objectors with no religious persuasions or members of various sectors or factions protesting liberal, reformed and other non-conformity with sacerdotally restricted religious practice.

4. Live animals drawn for the Hajj slaughter may originate from many areas in North Africa and the Middle East; some may be walked in by drovers.  Imports from the Antipodes are declining, because New Zealand has ceased exports of live animals for killing for meat in the Middle East.  N.Z. practices common killing methods that apparently satisfy both the Halal authorities and European importers, so the meat travels on the hook rather than on the hoof.  We understand that Australia has still held back, but the animal welfare movement there must surely prevail and the N.Z. example be adopted.  We understand also that no live sheep from the U.K. or Irish Republic will reach the offensive treatments inflicted on the animals at the Hajj proceedings.  However, such possibilities are at present being monitored and VEGA has sought help from DEFRA and other EU authorities to ensure that movements of sheep and goats be halted if such livestock are abandoned to such cruelty outside the Union.

Charter Flights to Fervour in Disrespectable Bouts of Cheapened Tourist

5. A World Report International published on 25/10/10 on Saudi Arabia, entitled Experience Makkah (Mecca), describes the pilgrims’ arrival on landing in Jeddah, “where the metamorphosis begins as the pilgrims prepare for their journey from the point of travel and takes a hold of their state of mind and heart as they approach the Holy City, whether they are travelling by air, sea or land.  For the pilgrims in Jeddah and Makkah itself, although the journey is not as long or gruelling as it is for some, it remains a spiritual designation that guides their every step.”  Makkah and its environs are being rapidly converted into a tourist centre the size of the biggest of stadiums, furnished with a new airport and railway and other transport systems, as well as hospitals, port facilities and hangars involving tons of concrete and architectural and constructional work – hardly the enterprise that attracts our Prince Charles, who aspires to be hailed as Defender of All the Faiths (which would certainly include Muslim, Jewish and Christian persuasions and cultures.)

6. On arriving at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAAI) hajjis (pilgrims) “are welcomed at the newly-expanded state-of-the-art Hajj Terminal.  The sight and sound of the sea of fellow pilgrims in their white simple garments surrounded by this new facility built for their service and comfort will lift their soul and prepare them for the arduous journey ahead.  The new Hajj Terminal is part of an overall development project of the KAAI Airport that began in 2003 to upgrade it to the highest standards and keep pace with expected increase in passengers,“ continues the Experience Makkah Report. ”The airport’s expansion is being implemented in 3 phases.  When completed the international airport will have 4 new terminal buildings, a hi-speed rail link from Jeddah to the airport and a capacity of up to 80 million passengers a year.  The first phase of the project is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.  It will raise capacity to 30 million passengers a year from the current 15 million per year,” states the report.

7. The expansion includes aircraft hardstands and paved areas, lighting, fuel delivery systems and storm water drainage.  There will also be a new support services building, renovation of the existing South and North terminals and upgrades of the existing runway and airfield systems to accommodate aircraft as big as the Airbus A380.  The 3 stages will be marked by capacity increases to 30 million, 60 million and 80 million passengers per year.  Based on current traffic increases, the existing South Terminal, used exclusively by Saudi Arabian Airlines, will need to serve about 21 million passengers per year over the next 20 years, to meet growing demand.  “The Hajj Terminal, which was built when the airport was first opened in 1981, is used only during the Hajj season and it caters to Makkah-bound passengers only”, explains the report, information in which portends a very busy travelling period in the Olympic Year of 2012.  The terminal has its own mosque and can accommodate over 80,000 travellers at one time.

8. Makkah Gateway is a visionary new city to be built on the western edge of Makkah Holy Region along the Jeddah-Makkah Highway.  The site for the city covers approximately 84 sq km of land.  It will house an estimated population of approximately 690,000 people.  Part of the site for the new city was originally intended as a national parkland reserve.  With the developments will emerge a regional university, a light transit system and a cable car system overlooking the national park.  The improvements in Makkah and its environs will reduce the dangers of overcrowding in the area and in the events: in recent years there have been 3 outbreaks of fire and in 2006 a stampede happened with loss of human life.

9. British Muslims participating in this year’s Hajj are strongly advised “to ensure that they are vaccinated against Seasonal Influenza before they set off on their travels.”  Cabinet Minister, Baroness Warsi, and Consular Minister Jeremy Browne gave further advice on risks and immunizations, and responsibilities for their own pre-travel preparations.  The Foreign Office’s Consular Service will be in attendance at the events.  The first international outbreaks of meningitis related to the Hajj occurred during 1987 and there have been similar incidents since.  However, visitors entering Saudi Arabia for the Hajj are now required to have been vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis (serogroups A, C, Y, and W135 for children over 2 years and adults and serogroup A for children aged 3 months to 2 years, a policy that is claimed to have eliminated outbreaks.)

10. Although the Saudi authorities are congratulating themselves for averting any difficulties at the Hajj last year from swine flu (which would be a most untoward curse at any Jewish or Muslim festival), there were victims of flu-like viral diseases and of heat stroke and dehydration.  Further, a Hindu event on a large scale earlier in the year ran into difficulties with disease; and the lessons of movements of animals, live, domesticated, human and wild have been remarked on as sequels to times of stress and movements, e.g. the 1918 “Spanish” flue epidemic, BSE, and TB.  Risks at major sports events, aggravated by drunkenness and strife, are also inviting disaster.  The pressure for cheap travel is nearly as demanding at a time of recession as the greed and comforting in cheap holidays and dumping ill-prepared and ill-acclimatized travellers expecting westernised catering in, albeit picturesque areas but still of food and water shortages, scanty medical provisions and poor hygiene.  The cruelty to the terrified livestock and the abandonment of kindly care that are beginning to inform and activate standards and reform in the treatment of non-human animals exploited for various malign purposes in the EU are blatantly flouted in orgies of torment that characterise aspects of the Hajj and cognate observances.

Warnings Unheeded: Coalition Government Fails to Respond

11. At a meeting in London on 3rd November 2010 a VEGA spokesperson had to remind Jim Paice, MP, a DEFRA Minister that his purview at a conference of farmers and retailers of foods, when brought up to date, still failed to comprehend land and marine resources to generate power, religion and methods of husbandry and slaughter of many animals, and demands of turistas and hedonistas, as well as of other forms of livestock and the threats of contamination and terrorism to which our efforts and others ‘to recall the harvest gathered in during September 1940 had gained increased importance for international well-being.  The movements of wild animals, hardly uncontrolled by us, as an otherwise dominant (and domineering) species, but nonetheless significant (e.g. in escapes), can contribute to spreads, outbreaks and epidemics of zoonotic and “exotic” diseases.

12. Cheap, chartered flights in huge double-decker air-buses for events such as the Hajj and smaller versions simultaneously in other countries call for special attention to the risks from familiar and new versions prostrating “gippy tummy;” air crew meals and drink taken hours before take-off must be vigorously controlled and monitored and, as all the buildings and amenities in Mecca and the environs comprise a whole holiday complex, with first-aid and hospital facilities able to cope with planeloads of ailing visitors, pilgrims and all.  Further, distressed flocks of sheep and other animals may be flown in rather than shipped in say, from the Antipodes.  Such animals will be intended for slaughter by Muslim procedures that nations within the EU are trying to ban and in conditions of fervour fomenting to panic and stampeding.  Much smaller events but of a similar nature and challenge have left their marks on the language: the ‘Black Death’, the ‘Village of Eyeham in Derbyshire’ and the nursery rhyme ‘and all fall down’: Lockerbie; glardiasis, tropical sprue, legionnaire’s disease; TB, cholera, typhoid, malaria and the quarantines in the Red Sea where developing scourges such as small pox could be contained before the end of the (relatively) slow moving PO (Posh Out, Starboard Home) liners making passages within the disease-prone cities and slums of the British Empire.  Humans en mass in crowds, herds, flocks, rallies, demonstrations and mobs do not make a pretty sight and their lamentable inability to hold their liquor and master their susceptibility to the lures of intoxication with religion and demotic opium for the masses reveal an underlying mood of discontent and dis-ease.

Gun Boats or Aircraft Carriers?  Who rescues marooned touristas and hedonistas?

13. The tourist industry and the traveller load the Ministry of Defence with responsibilities that may end up under the care of the already-stretched NHS.  What if one of the navy of cruise-liners is hijacked or boarded by pirates or kidnapped in the Indian or oriental seas?  What if a tsunami roaring over the beaches and hotels in Sri Lanka leaves a population of holidaymakers in a pocket of rapidly spreading cholera.  In WW2 “the Navy’s here” once had an almost Churchillian sound as British captives were seized in Norwegian waters from a German ship transporting them as prisoners of war.  Isn’t an aircraft-carrier a suitable ship, accompanied by supporting destroyers and submarines, to be at the ready to manage lift off and rescue for holidaymakers attempting occupation of a beach too far?

Why Do Diseases Love a Good Festival?

14. The Lancet’s conference on mass gatherings and means of preventing the globalizing of infection is being held in Jeddah, gateway to the Hajj.  Four million Muslim pilgrims – 25,000 from the U.K. – are expected at this year’s Hajj.  The Lancet will be looking at medicine at mass-gatherings and  biosecurity – what is best practice and what has been learned from Obama’s inauguration, the 2010 World Cup and the Hajj (“which is one of the largest, most frequent and most diverse mass gathering.  It is also a field day for disease, mainly ‘hajj flu’ – a combination of cold symptoms, exhaustion, dehydration and malnourishment – as well as cholera, polio and meningitis.”  It seems the Foreign Office is scrapping its medical delegation to the Hajj.  A study had suggested that “the average pilgrim had a disproportionate number of pre-existing health problems and did not have ‘adequate health literacy’ or advanced healthcare before the pilgrimage and that the transmission of infectious disease during mass gatherings had a global effect when visitors returned home.”  The possibility of natural disasters and civil disturbances complicates the surveillance and management of communicable diseases.

15. Biosecurity and mass-gathering medicine concerns are not restricted to the Hajj.  Earlier this year the Indu Kumbh Mela in Haridwa, India, attracted around 50 million pilgrims between January and April, with about 16 million people in attendance when the festival ended on 14th April.  The festival, which is held every 3 or 4 years, commemorates “a mythical battle between gods and demons over a pitcher of the nectar of immortality.”  During the battle drops of nectar fell in four different places:  Haridwar, Allahabad, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Ujjain in the central state of Madhya Pradesh and Nasik in central Maharashtra.  The Kumba Mela alternates between these four sites.  An even bigger Maha Kumbh Mela is held once every 12 years. The timing is guided by astrological signs.  The next event will be held in Allahabad in 2013.  It is likely to be the largest gathering ever witnessed.  The facilities at this year’s event, which included the usual “purification” by immersion in the chronically polluted River Ganges, entailed provision of 15,000 makeshift lavatories set up over an 80 sq mile area; 16,000 police were present to help manage the immense crowds and special train services were laid on.  Past Kumbh Melas have been blighted by tragedy.  Hundreds of pilgrims were crushed to death in a stampede in 1954 and dozens also died in 2003. 

16. The latest Lancet communiqué concludes: “with no sign that people are losing their appetites to travel long distances and endure crowded, sometimes dangerous conditions for sporting, religious or cultural events, the organizers hope the Jeddah conference will be a starting point for more international research into mass-gathering medicine.”  We can add that organizers of London’s Olympics must learn from the big festivals and provision for even greater events that facilities laid on for specific occurrences can serve more than temporary improvements and the planning and budgeting should take this into account for the local residents’ future well-being.  A commitment to the NHS must be commemoration of the 2012 Olympics with an institution reinforcing research facilities of, and care focused on, the common interests in the application of “prevention rather than cure” and “first do no harm” and to the challenges in achieving health and well-being for animals of all species.


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