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Once again it was the same ritual.

Known as Stoning of the Devil (Rami-aj-jamarat in Arabic), it is a part of the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslim pilgrims fling stones at walls in Mina, east of Mecca, in an orgiastic simulation of the destruction of evil. Ah, if only evil was so easy to vanquish.

Naturally, the nature of the ritual itself tends to get folks (already delirious with devotion and/or fatigue and/or thirst) go completely berserk. And go berserk they did this morning – more than 700 innocent pilgrims were crushed to death as they surged forward to commence their pelting.

This is not a stray occurrence. Mecca (and more specifically this joint where they stone the walls, at Mina) could have been named ‘Stampede Alley’, so frequently have pilgrims died from being crushed there. Stampede Alley has claimed the lives of literally thousands of hapless pilgrims. In the past two decades alone, there have been no less than six times when pilgrims were crushed to death – in 1990, 1994, 2001, 2003 and 2006.

Saudi Arabia – the supposed keeper of the faith, the sole custodian of the Allah’s interests on earth, let’s such occurrences happen with frightening regularity. And it gets away with it every time. Why shouldn’t it? After all, the victims are 99% foreign pilgrims and know they have zero chances of seeing powerful Saudi princes responsible for such pathetic arrangements, brought to justice.

Besides, where do those Saudi princes have the time for putting in efforts to make Mecca safer? Heck, they are busy getting oral sex in $40 million Beverly Hills Estates. And trust me, they aren’t tutoring those hapless young maids not to say, ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ with their mouths full.

The Mecca massacres haven’t always been accidental. In 1979, a bunch of gunmen walked in and mowed down scores of pilgrims with their automatic rifles. When fanatical Muslims are pissed off, that’s what they love to do – kill other Muslims.

One can’t help but wonder at the so-called five pillars of Islam, one of which requires all able-bodied Muslims with the means, to make the trip to Mecca — and get a priority pass to heaven in the afterlife, for taking the trouble.

Dying at the Hajj is actually celebrated by Muslims. It is the equivalent of winning the jackpot here in the Quebec LottoMax weekend draw. Muslims believe that if a pilgrim dies at Mecca, he is assured a penthouse suite in heaven.

If a Muslim speaks to you of someone he knows, who happened to be crushed to death or shot or simply fell in his Mecca hotel shower and broke his neck while on his Hajj pilgrimage, he’ll be like,”Yeah, well, pity that Ahmad was squished and stamped on but hey, isn’t it just super he’s right now in heaven?’

The very concept of pilgrimage is an oxymoron. All religions preach that God is supposed to be omnipresent – ubiquitous – everywhere. We are made to believe that He is there always watching over you – when you’re making love he’s there watching you – when you masturbate he’s watching and having a chuckle – he’s there when you fart and he’s there when you’re taking a crap. Religions tell us that God doesn’t believe in privacy at all.

Then why does it become necessary for anyone to travel thousands of miles to be at a designated wi-fi hot-spot (read ‘holy place’) for salvation, when all one has to do is just say a prayer wherever he happens to be at the moment?

Isn’t every place just as holy? Or is the God who is in the loo watching me pee, in some way lesser than the God I’d find at the temple or the mosque or a synagogue?