At least 550 Muslims die at Hajj - as temperatures at Mecca hit 51.8C

At least 550 people have died during the Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in the scorching heat, it has been reported.

Temperatures reached at least 51.8C (125F) in the shade in the Saudi Arabian city, as huge crowds of Muslims undertook the annual religious journey - one of the five pillars of Islam.

"Hajj is a difficult task, so you have to exert efforts and perform the rituals even in the conditions of heat and crowding," an Egyptian pilgrim said.

Pilgrims used umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, as Saudi authorities warned pilgrims to stay hydrated and avoid being outdoors during the hottest hours between 11am and 3pm.

Stampedes, tent fires and other accidents have caused hundreds of deaths during the Hajj in the past 30 years. Some 240 people reportedly died last year.

This year's pilgrimage began on Friday and as usual coincided with the religious holiday, Eid al-Adha.

Dozens of deaths have been reported during this year's Hajj, with the AFP news agency putting the total at 550, citing diplomats.

Some 323 of the dead were Egyptians, most of whom perished due to heat related illness, AFP said.

A 2024 study by the Journal of Travel and Medicine found that rising global temperatures may outpace strategies to deal with the heat. A 2019 study by Geophysical Research Letters said that as temperatures rise in arid Saudi Arabia due to climate change, pilgrims performing Hajj will face "extreme danger".

A Saudi health official, speaking on Monday before many of the reports of deaths were issued, said authorities had not noticed any unusual fatalities among Muslim pilgrims amid the extremely high temperatures.

The ministry had so far treated more than 2,700 pilgrims who suffered from heat-related illness, he added.

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What is the Hajj?

One of the largest mass gatherings in the world, the Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it.

Every year hundreds of thousands of Muslims journey to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and of the religion of Islam.

The Great Mosque of Mecca - Masjid al-Haram - is home to the Kaaba. It is Islam's holiest site and the direction in which Muslims all over the world face when they pray.

More than 1.8 million pilgrims were expected to take part this year, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.