I was reading an article in this week's issue of The Economist on the train ride home this evening about the health risks and dangers that befall Muslims who make the pilgrimage, or haj, to Mecca, hence the lame title of this post.
The article notes that "in at least seven of the past 20 years, stampedes have claimed scores of lives." Of course, nothing is likely to top the nearly 1,500 pilgrims who died in a tunnel in 1990.
But getting stampeded to death in Mecca is not the only danger that Muslims face in visiting the holiest site in their religion. The article points out that "one in three pilgrims suffers respiratory symptoms during the pilgrimage, and overcrowding (in tents accomodating up to 100 people) provides ideal conditions for illness to spread. The risk to families of pilgrims was highlighted by a study in Malaysia, published in 2002: among people sharing a house with a returning pilgrim, about 8% were carrying traces of the bacteria associated with meningitis."
It is evidence such as this that has caused some to worry that a global flu epidemic could potentially be triggered by people returning from the haj.
Atheists rightfully decry the danger posed by religious fanatics who commit murder with righteous certainty, but as the article in The Economist reveals, simply fulfilling one's religious obligations could be potentially more dangerous to humanity than all of the suicide bombers in the world.