Senseless deaths

Common sense would tell you that when temperatures rise to extraordinarily high levels, you should avoid exertion and stay indoors. The hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia undertaken by devout Muslims is done outdoors and is pretty grueling at the best of times. But when it is done during a heat wave, it is positively dangerous, and so it proved this year when temperatures reached 125F.

At least 550 pilgrims have died during the hajj, underscoring the gruelling nature of the pilgrimage which again unfolded in scorching temperatures this year.

At least 323 of those who died were Egyptians, most of them succumbing to heat-related illnesses, the two Arab diplomats coordinating their countries’ responses told AFP.

“All of them [the Egyptians] died because of heat” except for one who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush, one of the diplomats said, adding that the total figure came from the hospital morgue in the Al-Muaisem neighbourhood of Mecca.

At least 60 Jordanians have died, the diplomats said, up from an official tally of 41 given earlier on Tuesday by Amman.

The new deaths bring the total reported so far by multiple countries to 577, according to an AFP tally.

The diplomats said the total at the morgue in Al-Muaisem, one of the biggest in Mecca, was 550.

Saudi authorities have reported treating more than 2,000 pilgrims suffering from heat stress but have not updated that figure since Sunday and have not provided information on fatalities.

At least 240 pilgrims were reported dead by various countries last year, most of them Indonesians.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims with the means to must complete it at least once.

The pilgrimage is increasingly affected by climate breakdown, according to a Saudi study published last month that said temperatures in the area where rituals are performed were rising 0.4C (0.72F) each decade.

Temperatures hit 51.8C at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Monday, the Saudi national meteorology centre said.

It is madness to choose to go out in such temperatures. These people died because of their religious fervor.


  1. seachange says

    Illness is a legitimate excuse to not do the hajj. Religion does make people do odd things, so common sense is perhaps not applicable?

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    Well of course, anything related to religion is senseless to many atheists.

    Under such extreme conditions, with a total of more than 1.8 million hajjis, even a thousand deaths gives a mortality rate of only about 0.05%. Among so many people, of whatever faith (or lack thereof), there are always a small percentage who are just careless or impervious to sound advice.

  3. anat says

    Within Islam the requirement is to participate at least once in a lifetime. The Muslim calendar is lunar, with no leap-months, so the hajj month will migrate over time relative to seasons. Make sense to plan to go when hajj falls in a more convenient season.

  4. John Morales says

    “More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj in 2024, including more than 1.6 million pilgrims from 22 countries, and around 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents, according to the Saudi Hajj authorities.”

    577 ÷ 1.83M = 0.03% of attendees or 31 per 100,000; not exactly the highest mortality rate.

    Lots of deaths each and every year, and a shitload of work and $$$ has been spent on pilgrims’ safety.
    It’s just so very many people in such a short time will always be fraught.

    (Independent of Rob’s comment, this was)

  5. birgerjohansson says

    I just posted about this issue on another blog when I came across Mano Singham adressing the same issue.
    Swedish radio just gave an even higher death toll, and we have not seen the end yet.

    As for the lunar calendar, it is the tradition but *not* by decree in the koran -- the religious authorities could upgrade to a consistent modern calendar and place the hajj in the winter, they just don’t give a fuck.
    But this is hardly my # 1 complaint about the current practices in islam.

  6. garnetstar says

    I think that Mano is saying (please correct if wrong), not that it was a large percentage of the people who died, but that it’s just senseless to die for some imaginary requirement, which is religion.

    This is, of course, only going to get worse. At some point (I believe sooner that the Saudis think) people who live there won’t even be able to go outside for more than a few minutes. At the kind of temperatures that they’re going to see, any sort of exertion would make you ill, or worse.

  7. John Morales says

    … it’s just senseless to die for some imaginary requirement, which is religion.

    With perhaps a teensy-weensie aspect of cultural obligation and status, as well as a challenge.

    (I’ve known atheists who walked El Camino de Santiago because of the challenge and the tourism thingy)

  8. Mano Singham says

    garnetstar @#6 is right. I was not at all concerned with the percentage of people who died. The point was that they were dying because their religious fervor overcame common sense and medical advice, which is senseless and tragic whatever the number.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mano @9:

    I was not at all concerned with the percentage of people who died

    Well, you seem to be concerned about the number. Would you have posted if there had been one death?

    I’m happy to be corrected, but I remember reading somewhere that the mortality rate for mountain climbers is about 500 per million. Is that an example of some sort of fervour overcoming common sense? It’s certainly not my version of common sense (I hate heights), but people follow their bliss, wherever it leads them.

  10. John Morales says

    I still think that ascribing their deaths to their personal religious fervour is overgeneralising.

    Custom, tradition, cultural norms are part of it, whatever the religious aspect.
    Familial pressure, peer pressure, status points. All matter.

    I mean, I reckon something like 95% of Xmas gifts are wasted money and resources, but I don’t blame religion for it. Culture matters.

  11. Prax says

    It’s also worth noting that a large fraction of the pilgrims are elderly or chronically ill--people who are particularly likely to succumb during a heat wave, but also people with a higher mortality rate regardless. They’re not going to wait years for milder weather, because they don’t know if they have years left. Better to die during the hajj than to die before attempting it.

    As Rob says re: mountaineers, a lot of people would rather exit this life while achieving something on their bucket list.

  12. Katydid says

    The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, is a much, much smaller activity than the hajj, and people have died or been seriously injured in that.

    In the USA, a dismaying amount of people walk along train tracks and some get hit by trains and killed.

    As Rob Grigjanus pointed out, mountain climbers have a known fatality rate.

    During the worst of a world-wide pandemic killing hundreds of people daily, people refused to wear masks or take a vaccine.

    In summary, people make a lot of choices that prove deadly.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    “In summary, people make a lot of choices that prove deadly.”

    And that is why the AIs will not have to do any genocide to outcompete us.

  14. says

    IIRC The last time hundreds of people died at the Haj, the Saudi government tried to divert the world’s attention away from the incident by…stirring up hatred over drawings of Mohammed. That’s how we got the Toon Tantrum (Toontifada?).

    I wonder what the Saudis might do to distract us from this latest embarrassment…

  15. moarscienceplz says

    I have made a number of hikes from the floor of Yosemite Valley to the top. These are extremely steep trails, and if done on the sunny side of the valley you will sweat a lot even though the trails are not very long. On one of my first sunny-side hikes I had packed two 1.75 liter bottles of water and had consumed both of them by the time I reached the top. My trip down became pretty unpleasant towards the end due to dehydration, but the kicker was that near the start of my descent I met a young guy coming up who asked me for water. I told him mine was gone and out of curiosity I asked how much water he had started with. He told me he didn’t bring any!
    Some people are just idiots. I would guess many of those who died on this hajj were as careless about preparing as this guy was.

  16. birgerjohansson says

    Raging Bee @15
    The ultimate victims were the Christians in Iraq, as the distraction -- started by the Muhammed cartoons- was used as an excuse to subject the Christians to violence amounting to ethnic cleansing!
    More than 1,000 hajj pilgrims die amid temperatures approaching 52C in Mecca | Hajj | The Guardian

  17. Deepak Shetty says

    Im interpreting “senseless” as These deaths could have been easily avoided while achieving the aim of going on the pilgrimage (as opposed to the pilgrimage itself being senseless) -- if so
    Note that because there is the supposed cleanse of sins , a lot of people do wait till they are older (both for money reasons and because of the sure knowledge that they will sin quite a bit when they are less older).

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    Worth noting that 51C is the lower edge of the temperature (actually heat index, with temperature corrected for relative humidity) ‘death zone’, analogous to the altitude death zone at about 8,000 m. Below that temperature, heat stroke, even for healthy individuals, can follow physical exertion. Above 51C, heat stroke becomes likely even without exertion.

  19. John Morales says

    A bit of follow-up, in the news:

    Egypt to prosecute travel agents for ‘fraudulent’ hajj trips

    PM orders 16 companies to be stripped of licences amid hundreds of deaths, many attributed to extreme heat

    Arab diplomats told AFP earlier this week that Egyptians accounted for 658 deaths, 630 of them unregistered pilgrims.

    A statement issued by the Egyptian cabinet said: “The prime minister has ordered the licences of these companies to be revoked, their managers to be referred to the public prosecutor, and the imposition of a fine to benefit the families of the pilgrims who died because of them.”.

    It said the rise in the deaths of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims stemmed from some companies which “organised the hajj programmes using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Mecca” via official channels.

    On Friday, a senior Saudi official defended the Gulf kingdom’s management of the pilgrimage.

    Hajj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and distributed to individuals via a lottery. Even for those who can obtain a permit, the steep costs spur many to attempt the hajj without one, though pilgrims risk arrest and deportation if caught by Saudi security forces.

    The irregular route, which can save pilgrims thousands of dollars, has become increasingly popular since 2019, when Saudi Arabia introduced a general tourism visa which has made it easier to enter the Gulf kingdom.

  20. John Morales says

    Meanwhile: Dozens killed in stampede at India religious event

    At least 27 people, mostly women, have been killed in northern India in a stampede at a religious gathering, officials have said.

    The incident took place at a satsang (a Hindu religious event) in Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh state, a senior police official said.

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