For some Muslims, death at the Hajj viewed as a blessing

Story highlights

  • CNN's Nima Elbagir remembers the intensity of her experience on the Hajj in 2010
  • When pilgrims set off, they know there's a possibility they might not come home, she says
  • Almost every Muslim around the world will feel touched by the stampede's tragedy, she says
CNN's Nima Elbagir covered the Hajj in 2010.

(CNN)For Muslims to complete the Hajj is to be reborn. To die in the Hajj is a blessing.

You are considered to have been martyred, cleansed of sin.
    In the space of less than a week, during the Hajj, millions of Muslims stream along prescribed routes, undertaking the same rituals within the same narrow window of time.
    Islam requires the rites of the Hajj be completed only once in a lifetime and even then only if you are able.
    2010: CNN reporter experiences Hajj
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      2010: CNN reporter experiences Hajj


    2010: CNN reporter experiences Hajj 02:22
    There's a reason for that -- the Hajj is hard.
    I've done it only once. It was one of my first big assignments when I joined CNN.
    As a practicing Muslim, it was an almost indescribable experience. As you walk for hours among Muslims of every possible color and nationality, the physical toll of the Hajj is meant to humble you. And it does.
    In spite of the five-star hotels lining the circumference of the Holy Mosque in Mecca, money gets you only so far here. At some point everyone -- rich or poor -- must walk.

    Overwhelming mass of humanity

    In the press of humanity, it doesn't take much to spark panic.
    Muslims believe the rite of "stoning the devil" is a re-enactment of the temptation of the prophet Abraham by Satan on the same site.
    As you throw the stones, you are conjuring your own personal demons.
    Your shortcomings and temptations. All the fears that make you small.
    As I stood and thought of all the times I could have -- should have -- been better, all around me people wept as waves of pilgrims pressed in. Some appeared almost unseeing.
    Even as I felt tears running down my cheeks, I felt the weight of that gathered mass of humanity almost overwhelm me.
    The day before I'd stood at our broadcast position looking out over the plain of Arafat as pilgrims jammed together, shoulder to shoulder, a hum of prayers ringing out. There were millions, stretching up the slopes of Mount Arafat.

    Tragedy touches everyone

    When pilgrims set off, they know there is a real possibility that they might not come home. Many truly hope they won't.
    At least 717 killed in Hajj stampede
    At least 717 killed in Hajj stampede


      At least 717 killed in Hajj stampede


    At least 717 killed in Hajj stampede 02:21
    But over the past nine years, the number of deaths at Hajj has lessened. That's why Thursday's stampede that killed hundreds has come as such a shock.
    The numbers undertaking the Hajj are such that almost every Muslim around the world will feel touched by this tragedy.
    Everyone will know someone who was there, someone who wanted to go, someone who'd stood on that very spot.
    My family spent the morning of Eid al-Adha watching the death toll rise as we messaged and called relatives and friends.
    "Where is he?"
    "Has she called?"
    "Are you OK?"
    The same conversations will have been repeated in Muslim homes all around the world.
    As the families of the victims of this tragedy struggle to come to terms with their loss, they will also be struggling to come to terms with the knowledge that the risk was always there.
    As they grieve, they'll be told these were the lucky ones.
    And some will pray that they will be lucky, too.