Religion’s Biggest Pilgrimage, Congregation, and Slaughterhouse – Starting Now
1. The Muslim Hajj Pilgrimage began with the arrival this year of 700,993 people on Tuesday, the 25th November, an increase of 5% over last year, at Alinadinah in Saudi Arabia. An official statistical report stated that up to 450,512 had left by then for the final stages; 250,381 were lagging behind, an increase on last year of 2%. Indians dominated in the numbers already in the Hajj region, with 30,576, followed by Pakistanis at 26,835, and Nigerians at 22,684. Fifty-four arrivals by air flights had landed at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, bringing in 13,226 pilgrims, while nearly 1,143 buses carried 56,995 pilgrims into Almadinah and 981 departures carrying 44,985 pilgrams. Eighty-eight percent of hotel capacity had been taken and 67% of furnished apartments were occupied. As many as 9627 pilgrims had already reported to out-patient clinics, 185 cases were dealt with by the Madhinah-based Saudi Arabian Red Cresent Association.
2. On Wednesday 26th November, the number of pilgrims departing from Almadinah for Mecca to perform this year’s Hajj had reached 500,000 “as more then 700,000 had visited the holy city of the Prophet.” Sixty-three arrivals by air brought in 14,000 pilgrims, while nearly 157 buses were arriving on a daily basis with an increase of over 400% in the rates of departure from Almadinah. In all about 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to participate in this year’s gathering and events.
3. When Saudi Arabia became a Kingdom in 1932 the head of the Saudi dynasty, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Raman Al-Saud instigated large-scale changes to the organisation of the Hajj, its facilities, and infrastructure. The current ruler (in 2003, from which source we are deriving information from a report written that year on the infrastructure of “The Hajj Today”), King Fahd, the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, “has continued this commitment”. Over 25 years the Saudi Government had spent over $14 billion on various Hajj services and projects and for money donated to the holy city of Mecca and the pilgrims. Subsequent increases in numbers have led to adjustments to the city and its shrines to accommodate the increasing numbers and to “maximize the comfort and protection of the pilgrams”.
4. A special ministry of the Hajj oversees the annual pilgrimage, managing the planning and logistics of the biggest annual gathering of people on Earth. The King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah remains open for only 6 weeks of the year and is able to accommodate 80,000 pilgrims at any one time. The port of Jeddah receives 70,000 pilgrims by sea and the official Saudia airline brings in 90% of pilgrims from abroad. More than 60,000 volunteers from the Ministry of Hajj assist participants in the week long event. “Lost children and frail elderly people are among the casualties of the huge event”.
5. One of the King’s many gifts is a cooled water factory, which delivers 50 million bags of cooled water and ice packs every year to help pilgrims cope with the heat;. 20,000 water trucks are located at strategic points around the city to distribute the cooling materials.
6. In 1982 King Fahd opened the world’s largest slaughterhouse at a cost of $133 million with enough space for 500,000 sheep and cattle and from where the sacrificed meat is frozen, preserved, and distributed to Muslims everywhere. The Saudi Government also provides 1200 buses to transport pilgrims between the major locations of the Hajj. After a tent fire in Mina in 1997, the government spent $640 million building 44,000 air-conditioned and fire-proof tents for 1.5 million people. A series of security measures has been strengthened since stampedes in 1990, 1994 and 1998.
7. Police helicopters hover overhead to scan potential crushes, assisted by more than 1000 closed-circuit TV cameras in surrounding areas. At the Stoning of the Jamarat in Mina, security guards and paramedics stand ready, ushering pilgrims along a 2-tier system devised to cope with 200,000 pilgrims an hour. The 1950 Hajj recorded approximately 250,000 pilgrims; in 2002 numbers reached over 2 million, with 1,354,184 coming from abroad, 45% of whom were women. The majority came from Indonesia, Pakistan and India.
8. This year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage culminates in the 4 days from Saturday 6th December, to Tuesday 9th December. The Eid-ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) falls on the 3rd day. It commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, who was replaced by a lamb. This Eid is one of Islam’s biggest holidays. The pilgrims will have left from Muzdalifah where they had gone to collect pebbles for the Stoning of the Jamarat ritual. During the Stoning of Satan, pilgrims hurl 7 stones every day for 3 days at three 18-metre high concrete pillars that symbolize the Devil. They stand 155 metres apart and are mobbed by the crowds trying to close in on them. Such devotees may have saved for years to come to the Hajj and they take the instruction to slay the Devil literally and throw sandals, shoes, umbrellas – almost anything they can get their hands on. The event is dangerous: some pilgrims are hit by flying objects or pebbles; those who fling their sandals suffer from wounded feet.
9. In commemoration of the Prophet Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his only son to Allah, hundreds of thousands of animals are then slaughtered sacrificially. This year the kill in Mina alone is expected to exceed 700,000 animals, 700,000 being sheep (and goats) and 8,000 cattle and camels, the livestock coming from all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, and Egypt. Animal welfarists in the Antipodes are trying to halt these stressful shipments of live animals for slaughter by methods that would be banned in their own countries or subject to bans for exports to many other countries, which insist on such transport of meat on the hook rather than on the hoof.
10. Scholars of Islam rate the Eid sacrifice “one of the good deeds of Islam”, narrating the Prophet’s saying that “No son of Adam has done any deed on the Day of Immolation more likable to Allah than shedding blood (slaughtering the Eid sacrifice). So be pleased with it.” The scholars believe that the sacrifice is better than giving its value as alms. Sheep and goats are esteemed as the “best” kinds of animals “because the Prophet never slaughtered other than them on the Eid sacrifice, but camels, cows (ie cattle, including buffalos) are acceptable”. The animal should be “in a good state” and “fat enough” so that its meat could be eaten, as this is a symbol of Allah. A sheep suitable for the sacrifice must be at least 6 months old; and a goat likewise. Suitable “cows” must be at least 2 years old, and camels not less than 5 years old.
11. Sacrifice should not be made of a “defective” animal. The Prophet explained such defects as of 4 kinds: “the one-eyed whose loss of one eye is evident and the sick whose sickness is evident, and the skinny one which has no flesh on it. “Most scholars read these lists on to any one of the aforementioned “that is equal to one of them or worse; then it makes the sacrifice invalid (like the blind or one which lacks one foot)”. The castrated animal can suffice “because the Prophet made Eid sacrifice with 2 castrated rams; also the sheep that was born without a fat tail or which has at least half of its fat tail can suffice as Eid sacrifice, but the sheep whose fat tail was completely cut off does not suffice”.
12. The edicts continue: “One sheep or one goat is sufficient as Eid sacrifice for the man as well as his own family. It is also lawful for 7 people to slaughter one cow or one camel as Eid sacrifice. The pilgrimage starts the Eid-ul-Adha with a prayer and then returns to sacrifice the animal. Reversal of this order invalidates the practice, because “the slaughtering of the animal is directed to the acquiring of meat for this family, and there is nothing of the sort of sacrifice in it”. Other alterations and repeated acts are discussed; then, “it is likeable for one to witness slaughtering his sacrifice or to slaughter it himself and divide it into 3 parts. He eats one third as gifts, as the Prophet said to his daughter Fatima: ‘Be present when your Eid sacrifice is slaughtered’. Allah forgives you as the first drop of its blood comes out. He should also say when slaughtering it: ‘Bismillah, O Allah! It is from your favor and for you Allah knows best.”
13. Formerly pilgrims carried out the sacrifices themselves, with a proportion of the meat being given to the local poor. However, “as the Hajj has escalated enormous amounts of meat rotted in the sun and had to be buried in huge pits, which was both wasteful and a health hazard”. The sacrifices are now carried out by the Islamic Bank in a number of slaughterhouses. Some can handle 50,000 animals a day. There are more than 28,000 butchers on hand who work around the clock for 3 days. The actual killing is done with a single stroke of a knife. “This is the Halal method of killing animals, which is supposed to be quick and painless”, according to one report.
14. Most pilgrims do not even see their sacrifice occur: they buy a voucher from the Islamic Bank and the sacrifice is carried out in their name. Few of the pilgrims opt to observe or assist in their sacrifice. Some pilgrims choose to kill more than one animal. One describes slaughtering 5 sheep, “because he likes the idea of people he has never met in places he will probably never go to enjoying his gift”. The meat from the offering is packaged, frozen, and shipped to destinations inside Saudi Arabia and abroad, to feed the poor.
15. Shipping millions of livestock, human and non-human, from all areas of the globe and congregating them in a small area for a week of violent activity including a huge kill and distribution of meat are running serious risks in a world threatened with pestilence, strife, and rank terrorism. The miasma of pain, suffering, and terror that overhangs these rituals could be surely replaced by reverent expressions of events in the history of our species and the glorification that could be commemorated. The Hajj is only slightly redeemed – and only recently at that – by the distributions of the kill to the poor. Some efforts may be made to mark the Eid sacrifice in the UK, with British sheep. Slaughterhouses in the UK may prevent illegal slaughtering by accepting sacrificial sheep and goats for procedures still allowed in the UK for “religious” slaughter and in keeping with the rules on hygiene; these challenges may confront a Board meeting next week of the Food Standards Agency in London, which will have to cope with the corollaries of a just- resolved, but temporary (in a spirit of goodwill) strike of inspectors in the Meat Hygiene Service.
16. Nonetheless, casting the mote from the eyes of other pilgrims cannot overlook the beam in the practices or indifference to cruelty and obscurantism in religions, myths, and paganism in our own part of the world; and how many of the august Fellows of the Royal Society, darwinists all, don’t sit down to the mortal remains of the Christmas (or Thanksgiving) turkey, bred and reared for rituals of religiously-inspired outpourings of “peace and goodwill”. In some scriptures the elements of careful farming and food production surface and have been replaced by innocuous celebrations; other practices have been removed from public view, but “nice” and “kindly” folk cannot extricate themselves from the enormities perpetrated in the names of cheap food and false qualities and manifestations of overweening greed and depredation. More than almost any other appeals economics bids fair to assert the qualities of life and the virtues of kindness and mercy, and to direct human endeavor and to those ends.