Hajj, Tragic & Trivial

The dead: “54 Indonesians, 36 Pakistanis, 13 Egyptians, 11 Turks, 11 Indians, 10 Algerians, 10 Bangladeshis, eight Sudanese, seven Moroccans, five Chinese, four Yemenis, three Sri Lankans, two Afghans, two Somalis, two Syrians, two Saudis, one Burmese, one Omani, one Tunisian, one Nigerian, one Chadian and one Cameroonian.” And then another 58, unidentified.

Such is the tally, according to Islam Online.net, from the hajj stampede in Saudi Arabia today, a story that is topping international religion coverage. Rightly so; it’s a tragedy, and by and large the coverage has been intelligent. But The Revealer wonders if there isn’t a little bit of Orientalism at play here, an undercurrent of “the inexplicable East,” particularly in the focus on the site of the deaths, a pillar at which pilgrims throw stones.

More insightful hajj reporting can be found in The Christian Science Monitor, which has sent journalist Faiza Saleh Ambah on the hajj. Such immersion is the kind of religion reporting The Revealer likes best, and Ambah does not disappoint:

As we head to our rooms to get ready for ihram (state of hajj-related sacredness; also the pilgrims’ garb), she looks closely at my hands. “Is that nail polish? And on your feet too?” She shakes her head in consternation and fetches cotton and nail polish remover.

“Hurry up, we don’t have much time.”

As I pass the cotton over my nails, I try to get into the right frame of mind…. Suddenly the smile of a man I recently had dinner with comes to [me]…”

We don’t mean to trivialize the deaths of hundreds, but rather only to point out that the hajj is as much about small, individual experiences as it is about crowds of millions.

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