A year after the worst Hajj disaster in recent history, Saudi Arabia is ready to host another pilgrimage.
Though more and more Muslims flood the country with religious fervor for the Hajj and preparations for the event, including precautions for safety, get more elaborate every year; accidents occur every year.
The past years have seen numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots but the 2015 stampede was by far the worst and most horrific.
Add to that the Saudi government's stubbornness to neither accept their mistakes or do something about it, and the situation is not a very promising one.
The 2015 stampede resulted in a death toll of at least 2,411 people — a number that the Saudi government never admitted.
What was perhaps worse than the death toll was the ordeal of anxious families and relatives of the dead and missing persons due to the inadequate response of Saudi authorities.
Indonesia claimed their officials had to wait for almost three days before they were granted access to their citizens who were killed or injured.
Now it's another year, another pilgrimage, and the world wonders if the Saudi government is ready and has planned a much safer pilgrim season.
If news is to be believed, they have.
Saudi Arabia is said to have introduced electronic identification bracelets for all pilgrims to Mecca. The water-resistant bands will contain personal and medical information of the wearer and help authorities provide care and identify them.
The wrist bands will also be connected to GPS and indicate timings of prayers and a multi-lingual guide for non-Arabic speaking pilgrims about various Hajj rituals.
In addition, nearly a thousand new surveillance cameras have been installed at Mecca's Grand Mosque and linked to control rooms staffed by special forces monitoring pilgrim movements.
Electronic paths and gates have also been placed to manage crowds heading to Jamarat, the symbolic stoning of the devil, a place where many previous disasters have also taken place.
Iran is one of the countries that has no faith in Saudi Arabia's ability to manage the yearly pilgrimage.
Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei went as far as writing a letter to the leaders of the Islamic world as well as Egypt’s top Islamic institution Al–Azhar, asking them reject the modern Saudi royal family as custodian of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina.
Among other things, the missive also referred to 2015’s stampede when at least 450 Iranian pilgrims were killed.
“Instead of providing an official excuse for the incident and holding accountable any officials who were responsible, Saudi officials simply evaded the matter, even refusing to formulate a fact-finding committee. This step showed apparent hostility towards the Iranian Islamic Republic,” Khamenei wrote.
In May this year, the Iranian Hajj authority officially announced that no pilgrims from the country will be going on Hajj this year.
The authorities at Al-Azhar, however, refused to take any action in this regard.
“Al-Azhar’s authority for high-ranking scholars asserts its refusal of suggestions made by some regional powers to internationalize the administration of the two holy mosques. The authority confirms its condemnation of the usage of religious matters to achieve political goals — these suggestions will open the door for sectarian strife,” their statement read.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Muhammad Hamed