An estimated 244 to "at least 345" people senslessly died in yet another tragedy in the name of god.
As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it is the religious duty of all Muslims who are able to take a pilgramage (Hajj) to Makkah (Mecca) at least once in their life. One of the nine ritual acts that are part of this grand event is the Stoning of the Devil in which pilgrims pelt the Jamaraat -- pillars symbolically representing the Devil or temptation -- with stones (actually pebbles) in a reenactment of an ordeal Ibrihim (Abraham) went through while trying to sacrifice his son Ishmael (those familiar with Judeo-Christian belief may see the similarities with Abraham and Issac). This stoning "represents the repudiation of man's self...and the act of casting aside one's low desires and wishes" and serves as a "symbolic purging of their sins."
As one Muslim explains:
This ritual is particularly emotional for many pilgrims. The pillars actually become the Devil for many pilgrims, and people can be heard screaming, "Because of you, I did..."
This emotion is where things can get dangerous. The most recent example happened when "some 600,000 pilgrims were squeezed in at the main eastern entrance ramp to the platform when about a dozen people stumbled over baggage, tripping others behind them" leading to a stampede resulting in the death toll listed above.
This is not the first time tragedy has stricken the faithful during Hajj, and a quick glance at a table illustrating the most major of such in recent years shows that almost 1,100 people have been killed in stampedes near Jamarat Bridge since 1994.
The tragedy is that each of these people are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, lovers. For we non-believers, the sad irony is that thousands of human beings are dying in vain, trying to purge themselves of imaginary sins committed against a god that doesn't exist to ensure themselves a spot in an afterlife that isn't there.