The death toll from a stampede at the hajj in Saudi Arabia on Thursday has risen to more than 700, with at least an additional 800 injured. The stampede took place in Mina, a valley about 3 miles outside Mecca that houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the annual pilgrimage. This year’s hajj was already marked by tragedy: A crane collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque during a storm earlier this month, killing 108 people.
Sadly, catastrophes like Thursday’s are not unusual during the pilgrimage, which all Muslims are obligated to make at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able. In the most recent deadly stampede in 2006, there were 360 pilgrims killed. The worst ever, in 1990, killed more than 1,000.
As Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world and many more Muslims are able to make the journey, the hajj has grown dramatically in size in recent years.
The Saudi government cut the number of foreign pilgrims permitted to make the journey in 2013 due to ongoing construction projects, slowing the increase in visitors. This has led to a major construction boom in Mecca, though, as Mustafa Hameed recently wrote for Foreign Policy, many facilities are still dangerously inadequate.* Despite the crane tragedy, as well as worries about the MERS virus and the conflict in neighboring Yemen, more than 2 million people are participating in this year’s pilgrimage.
Mina, the site of Thursday’s stampede, is where pilgrims carry out the symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls. According to Al Jazeera, the ritual is continuing despite the tragedy.
*Correction, Sept. 24, 2015: This post originally mispelled Mustafa Hameed’s last name.