Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – There have been a number of discrepancies within media reports on this year’s Hajj pilgrimage regarding the number of pilgrims taking part. The total number of pilgrims according to some media reports has reached three million. This issue has gained much attention from correspondents covering the religious event.
Despite that the Saudi Central Department of Statistics had announced Wednesday that the total number of pilgrims from this year’s Hajj reached 2,454,325, (1,707,814 from outside of Saudi Arabia and 746,511 from within the kingdom), a state of confusion within the media prevailed over the past few days.
In one Gulf newspaper, the headline read, “Here I am Lord, here I am: Repeated Three Million Pilgrims,” and this was the largest figure used in the media.
On one of the satellite channels, reporters differed over the number of pilgrims with one claiming that it exceeded two and a half million whilst another argued that there were no more than two million pilgrims.
This annual estimate of the total number of Hajj pilgrims is a statistical crisis for reporters with over 180 international, Arab and local media organizations within the holy areas. These organizations rely on official figures that are announced from the beginning of the pilgrimage until the day of “Woqouf” [standing] on the plain of Mount Arafat that takes place on the ninth day of Dhul Hijjah and that signifies the completion of the pilgrimage.
Abdul Aziz al Hasoun, an advisor at the Ministry of Hajj, stated in a joint press conference held Wednesday in Mecca that the increase in the number of pilgrims to 2.4 million as announced by the Central Department of Statistics was a result of people remaining in the Hajj vicinity without authorization from before the pilgrimage began, as only two million pilgrims were given permission by the authorities to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.
The problem of unofficial pilgrims contributes to the conflicting numbers of Hajj pilgrims. However, the number of unofficial pilgrims has reduced this year in comparison to previous years according to official reports. Consequently, the number of people sleeping on bridges and on pathways in Mina, a phenomenon associated with unauthorized pilgrims, has also decreased.
Specialists believe that technology should be utilized in order to identify the exact number of pilgrims in the holy places in an accurate manner and on a daily basis as the religious rituals take place. An accurate figure rather than estimates would thus dismiss any confusion within the media that covers the holy event.