Rage, grief, and accusations against Jordan's religious ministry after pilgrim deaths

Rage, grief, and accusations against Jordan's religious ministry after pilgrim deaths
The death of dozens of Jordanian pilgrims while on Hajj has seen anger erupt across Jordan with accusations of negligence against the Ministry of Awqaf.
3 min read
18 June, 2024
At least 39 people are thought to have died from heat stroke while in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage [Getty]

The deaths of Jordanian pilgrims in Mecca has sparked widespread grief and outrage across Jordan, with anger directed at the kingdom's ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, which people accuse of negligence.

Local Jordanian news websites have reported that the number of deaths among unofficial Jordanian pilgrims to Mecca has risen to more than 39 and is expected to increase with many still missing.

Commenting on the confirmed deaths of 14 Jordanian pilgrims and 17 missing on Sunday, the office of the Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Mohammed al-Khalayleh, commented: "All the official Jordanian pilgrims are fine... the minister has no official stats on the unofficial pilgrims."

Following anger over the comments, ministry spokesman Ali Al-Daqamseh released a statement on Monday clarifying that Al-Khalayleh had formed a special team to follow up on the deaths and locate the missing persons in coordination with Saudi authorities who manage the Hajj.

He said the team had managed to locate missing pilgrims in the Jordanian Hajj delegation camps, while the search was continuing for a woman reported missing by her family.

Jordanian citizens took to social media demanding the government take responsibility for the irregular pilgrims, who went to Mecca without a special Hajj visa and outside the official delegation.

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"What happened in the Hajj season this year requires an investigation to be opened and the government to be held accountable," tweeted Jordanian activist Dehma Hajaya.

"If the government knew visitor visas used with the aim of performing the holy obligation of Hajj exceeded the approved Hajj permits, that is a disaster. If it didn't know, it's an even bigger disaster."

Director of the National Society for Human Rights in Jordan, Rami Ayasra, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition: "The presence of irregular pilgrims doesn't exempt the Minister of Awqaf from responsibility."

He added that it was "unacceptable for the Minister of Awqaf to talk about these pilgrims this way, as though he is unconcerned with them and they are outside his political and moral responsibility".

He urged the government to make every effort to find the missing and facilitate their return home, "as citizens have the right to their government's assistance wherever they are".

Jordanian MP Yanal Fraihat said the tragedy was "the result of compounded errors, on the part of the Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, which didn’t follow up with the tourist transport companies transporting pilgrims. The companies also bear responsibility, and at the same time citizens bear part of the responsibility, especially since there is a legal aspect."

He added that: "Religious enthusiasm is the reason this risk was taken, but the additional exhaustion should have been avoided, and sunstroke, as we know, is what primarily caused death."

Until now the precise circumstances and cause of the deaths have not been officially revealed.

Jordanian activists have established a Facebook group called 'Jordan's missing pilgrims Hajj 1445', to search for the missing, using the current year according to the Islamic calendar.

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is an obligatory requirement for all able Muslims to take part in the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

Due to the high demand, Saudi Arabia allocates pilgrim quotas according to nationality for each Hajj in order to manage numbers safely and this year, there was a rise in Jordanian pilgrims attempting to make the pilgrimage unofficially.

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This followed Saudi Arabia granting visitor visas that allowed three-month stays in the kingdom, which many saw as a chance to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at a relatively low cost.

However, the irregular Hajj pilgrims, unlike the official delegations, were not provided with accommodation forcing them to sleep in mosques or on the streets with temperatures exceeding 47 degrees Celsius.

This article is based on an article which appeared in our Arabic edition by Anwar Al-Ziadat on 18 June 2024. To read the original article click here.