Eid al Azha this year has been marred with great sadness as 717 pilgrims were crushed to death as a stampede broke out in Mina near Mecca, injuring another 863. Hajj, the annual pilgrimage undertaken by Muslims across the world to Saudi Arabia’s Mecca, has turned into a tragedy this year, following an unfortunate series of accidents that has claimed over 450 lives in total and injured hundreds of pilgrims. The tragedy has dampened the joy of Eid here in Pakistan.

The incident comes even as Saudi Arabia took precautions to ensure the Hajj pilgrimage is not hampered by accidents or terror attacks, especially after the deadly crane crash on 11 September, in which 111 pilgrims were killed and 394 injured. The pilgrimage, the world’s largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of deadly disasters in the past, including stampedes, tent fires and riots. The last major stampede incident in hajj took place in 2006, when at least 346 pilgrims were killed as they attempted to perform the stoning of the devil at Jamarat.

Hajj has been relatively accident free in the last decade and much of it could be attributed to the massive expansions carried out at the holy sites. Such disasters are politically sensitive for the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the custodians of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina. Naturally the Saudi government has much to address in the wake of these very distressing incidences; can these be attributed to lapses in management, coordination and security or simply to God’s will?

Hajj has always been a much-rejoiced occasion as it is the religious journey that each individual makes that brings him or her closer to their God and a chance to absolve their sins and start afresh. This year although marked with great tragedy saw a sentiment of unity amongst the Muslims as they collectively prayed for peace in the conflict stricken Arab world. Even the grand Mufti, in his Hajj sermon cautioned the Muslims about the menace of terrorists – making a clear reference to Daesh - using the name of religion to sabotage peace. Eid for us should resonate this sentiment; it should be about unity, about peace and tolerance. We should hope to make this day about the deserving and the needy, and to spread the message of love and equality.