Saudi Arabia: what we know about the hundreds of deaths during the Muslim hajj pilgrimage

Saudi Arabia: what we know about the hundreds of deaths during the Muslim hajj pilgrimage
Saudi Arabia: what we know about the hundreds of deaths during the Muslim hajj pilgrimage

The toll is appalling, and it could rise further. More than 900 people died while performing the Muslim hajj pilgrimage, which took place last week in Saudi Arabia. Here’s what we know.

What results?

At least 922 people died this weekend during the hajj, according to a report established by AFP based on data provided by different countries. The majority of victims are of Egyptian nationality, while the deaths of at least 600 Egyptian pilgrims were reported on Wednesday.

Added to these deaths are those of 68 Indian nationals, counted to AFP on Wednesday by a diplomat from an Asian country, who preferred to remain anonymous. The death of at least 60 Jordanians was also announced and deaths were also confirmed in Indonesia, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia and Iraqi Kurdistan. Asked to know if French victims had been reported, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not responded at the time of publication of this article.

What did they die of?

The vast majority of reported deaths were attributed to the heat, as temperatures reached 51.8 degrees Celsius during the hajj, which took place from Friday to Sunday, in the height of summer. “All the deaths (newly announced) are due to the heat,” said an Arab diplomat on Wednesday when the new Egyptian toll was announced.

Among the 68 deaths of Indian pilgrims, “some are due to natural causes, we have had many elderly pilgrims”, however indicated the Asian diplomat, explaining that “others are due to weather conditions”. A pilgrim – whose nationality was not revealed – also died after being injured during a crowd movement, a diplomat said when a previous death toll of 550 was announced on Tuesday.

What is hajj?

The hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It takes place once a year during the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar year. All Muslims who have the means must perform it at least once in their life. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Around 1.8 million worshipers took part in the hajj this year, including 1.6 million from abroad, according to Saudi authorities. In 2023, the most numerous foreign pilgrims came from Asian countries, notably Indonesia (229,000), Pakistan (179,210) and India (175,025), according to data collected by the Statistica website.

What are the risks ?

Deaths are not uncommon during the hajj. The deadliest incident ever occurred in 2015, when a stampede in Mina left more than 2,400 pilgrims dead. Saudi Arabia has never acknowledged the toll of this tragedy. A previous stampede also killed nearly 1,500 people in 1990.

The pilgrimage is also increasingly suffering the effects of climate change, warned a Saudi study published in May according to which temperatures at the sites where the rituals take place are increasing by 0.4 degrees Celsius every ten years. A study carried out in 2019 by experts from MIT also revealed that the hajj would take place at temperatures exceeding an “extreme danger threshold” from 2047 to 2052 then from 2079 to 2086, periods in which it will take place in the summer (the pilgrimage falls about eleven days earlier each year, based on the lunar calendar), reports AP.

Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims finally put themselves in danger by attempting to perform the hajj through irregular means, because they cannot afford the often expensive official permits.

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