Five South African pilgrims die in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj

Three South African pilgrims passed away in the city of Madinah before performing this year’s Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj, and another two died while undertaking it.

What is the Hajj?

The Hajj, a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims who are physically and financially able are obliged to perform it at least once in their lifetime.

Many Muslims spend years saving up to travel to Mecca (Makkah), the holiest city in Islam, to embark on the pilgrimage. It takes place in the days before and during the holy period of Eid al-Adha. Pilgrims visit several holy sites, including circling the Kaaba and praying near Mount Arafat.

The pilgrimage is physically challenging, even for those who are younger and fit. Many of the pilgrims are elderly or ailing. Some believe that the Hajj might be their final rite and that dying in Mecca will award great blessings, according to The New York Times.

Heatwave not to blame for death of SA pilgrims

The Department of International Relations (Dirco) has confirmed that five South African pilgrims died in Saudi Arabia during this year’s Hajj season in June.

Three South Africans died in the city of Madinah before going to Mecca and performing Hajj. Another two passed away while undertaking it.

During Hajj, pilgrims sometimes visit Medina, the city of Prophet Muhammad, before going to Makkah before the start of Hajj.

Saudi Arabia has been experiencing a heatwave that has claimed the lives of at least 1 301 people. More than 650 of those who died were Egyptian. However, the Dirco director Ashraf Suliman said none of the deaths of the South Africans who passed away were a result of the excessive heat. All of them passed away due to illness, as reported by The Citizen.

Extreme temperatures

The journey takes five to six days and this year almost 2 million pilgrims from around the world took part.

Temperatures in Makkah this year climbed as high as 51.8 degrees Celsius, according to Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Meteorology.

Saudi Arabia’s health minister, Fahad Al-Jalajel, said that pilgrims walked long distances under direct sunlight without adequate shelter.

Saudi authorities provided medical services, including 465 000 specialised treatments. The healthcare services offered included open-heart surgeries, cardiac catheterisation, etc.

Has this happened before during Hajj?

USA Today reported that catastrophic deaths at Hajj are not unusual. A stampede in 2015 in Mina killed more than 2 200 people, and another stampede in 1990 killed over 1 400 people.

Looking further back, more than 1 700 people died around the holy sites in 1985. Most of them died because of heat stress, a study at the time found.

Due to climate change, future pilgrimages will continue to face dangerously high temperatures.

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