"The Kingdome of Saudi Arabia should play a significant leading role in finding ways to overcome the crisis which recurs every year and leads to the killing of innocent souls," Dr. Salah Soltan, the president of the American Center for Islamic Research (ACIR), told IslamOnline.net.
He has sent an "urgent message" to Saudi Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister Naef Bin Abdul Aziz and Hajj Minister Fouad bin Abdul-Salam Al-Farsy to hold a conference under the auspices of the Fiqh Academy in Makkah.
"Despite the Saudi tedious efforts, the death of Muslims, which occurred this season and some last seasons due to the large crowd in throwing pebbles, has hurt our soul and we were deeply saddened," reads the message, a copy of which was sent to IOL.
Some 363 Muslim pilgrims were crushed to death in a deadly hajj stampede on Thursday, January 15, while performing the symbolic stoning of the devil at the climax of hajj. Saudi authorities blamed the stampede on unruly pilgrims from outside officially-sanctioned operators.
Some witnesses reported panic among pilgrims about when they should perform the last rite of hajj. Last week, Saudi authorities pulled down the Jamarat Bridge as part of a revamp project to stave off deadly stampedes in the future.
Dr. Soltan, a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and the Fiqh Council of North America, blamed hajj stampedes on conflicting fatwas on performing the devil-stoning ritual.
"There is a group of scholars who still give fatwas that throwing the pebbles is not allowed before the zawal," he said in a live dialogue with IOL's audience on Thursday, January 19.
"There are some official scholars who say it is allowed to throw before zawal but the great number of local scholars and sheikhs give fatwas it is not allowed."
Soltan's ACIR has prepared a juristic study on the controversial issue entitled "Expanding The Time Of Throwing The Pebbles: A Current Legitimate Necessity."
The scholar urged the Fiqh Academy in Makkah to review the research and invite representatives from the international fiqh academies in Al-Azhar, the Arab Maghreb, India, Europe and America to issue a unified fatwa.
Muslim pilgrims hurl seven pebbles from behind a fence or from the overhead bridge every day for three days at each of the three 18-meter (58-foot) high concrete pillars symbolizing the devil. In 2004, an Egyptian scholar put forward a couple of creative ideas to alleviate the too much crowding in hajj season, suggesting to make some of the rituals automated.
The Muslim scholar also blamed stampedes on the ignorance of the rules and objectives of hajj by many sincere Muslims. "It is unfortunate that the people who pay thousands of dollars to perform hajj do not take time to read a booklet about hajj.
"The problem of hajj stampede is that people push and shove without knowing they are not supposed to do," he told IOL's audience. Dr. Soltan underlined the need for media and educational campaigns to better acquaint would-be pilgrims with hajj rituals.
"I believe Muslim countries should launch an educational campaign to raise awareness and orient the people earlier than the hajj season. "There should be also a room for scholars over Arab and Muslim satellites to discuss these issues in detail."
He cited Malaysia as an example to be followed. "It is very rare to see pilgrims from Malaysia lost in hajj or killed in stampede because the government of Malaysia does a lot of training with the help of some models to show people before they go to hajj what they are supposed to do in practice."
The Muslim scholar believes that if Muslims unify fatwas and educate would-be pilgrims hajj rituals will be done "in an easier, safer and more secure way."
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