- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — She endured desert heat, hunger, long walks and hours of waiting in lines. She was nearly crushed by a surging crowd inside a mosque and narrowly missed a deadly stampede.

But upon returning from her pilgrimage to Mecca for the annual hajj, Nadia Bazzy said she has been altered to her core.

“You feel completely taken care of,” said the 20-year-old college student from the Detroit suburb of Canton Township. “You don’t have any worries.”

Miss Bazzy was one of about 3,000 Muslims from Michigan who returned from Saudi Arabia this month — exhausted, euphoric and fulfilled after about 20 days of praying and visiting holy sites. Islam requires all who are physically and financially able to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. The Detroit area has one of the nation’s largest Muslim populations, with an estimated 100,000 people in the city and three neighboring counties.

As it has more than a half-dozen times in the past 20 years, a disaster struck at this year’s hajj: At least 360 people were killed in a Jan. 12 stampede. Yet Miss Bazzy and several other pilgrims from Detroit said that, while the visit was at times harrowing, any sense of danger was lessened by a feeling of closeness to God.

The tragedy occurred at al-Jamarat, a giant platform where three pillars representing the devil are located and where other disasters have occurred. Pilgrims pelt the pillars with stones in a symbolic purging of their sins.

Saudi authorities have blamed pilgrims who ignored instructions to leave their baggage behind them for tripping other worshippers, creating the deadly crush. The Saudis have started rebuilding the ramp leading to the site to make it wider.

In the living room of her parents’ home in an upscale subdivision, Miss Bazzy said she escaped the stampede by only minutes. She saw its aftermath, however, a constant flow of ambulances slowly making its way through hundreds of thousands of people trying to complete the stoning, which is the final ritual of the hajj.

“You had groups of people just colliding,” she said. “There were ambulances trying to get through. It was ridiculous.”

The large crowds are of different ages, speak different languages and come from different cultures, Miss Bazzy said. Some are very anxious to take part in the ritual. On a platform from where stones are thrown, some people toss from the back rows, striking people in the front. Officials encourage them to throw pebbles, but some don’t listen, Miss Bazzy said.

“I did take a few to the head myself,” said Moheeb Murray, 30, a lawyer from Troy, a suburb about 15 miles north of Detroit, who also made the trip.

Like Miss Bazzy, Mr. Murray said he would travel to Mecca again without hesitation, because the spiritual experience far outweighed the potential for injury or even death.

He said pilgrims submit themselves to God’s will, but he had a feeling that he would be protected.

“From an Islamic point of view, if you die performing your hajj, you’re given a great reward in heaven for that,” he said. “Ultimately, if something bad happens to you, in a spiritual sense, you’re well taken care of as a result.”

Mr. Murray said he was constantly on the lookout for dangerous situations, watching the crowds and avoiding areas where he could be crushed with no avenue of escape. A key is “not trying so hard to get to the exact spot where you want to be at the risk of losing your life or your health.”

Zainab Hassan, a 23-year-old from Livonia, another Detroit suburb, agreed that the trip came with serious risks, but she went because it’s God’s will. “You take the risk because you’re obligated to do it and you’re living this life for God,” she said. “We’re living for the hereafter.”

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