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Sweating, praying, loving: extreme heat chases Hajj – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

The Hajj pilgrimage can be physically demanding even under ideal conditions, but believers face an added challenge this year: scorching sun and temperatures soaring to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).

Muslims who flocked to western Saudi Arabia for the five-day ritual, which takes place largely outdoors, were met with a stark reminder of how warming tendencies are aggravating an already very hot desert climate.

Islam forbids men from wearing hats once the Hajj rites begin and many have been seen trying to protect themselves with umbrellas, prayer mats and in one case even a small bucket full of water.

Women are required to cover their heads with scarves.

The result is a daunting test of endurance, although pilgrims are generally reluctant to complain.

“I’m doing well. I’m really enjoying it, although I’ve never experienced this heat before,” Noliha, a 61-year-old woman from Brunei, who gave only her first name, told AFP.

“I really love it because I’m in Mecca doing my first Hajj. I just cover my head with a hat instead of using the umbrella.”

The timing of the Hajj is determined by the Islamic calendar and since 2017 has fallen at least partially during July and August, the hottest months in Saudi Arabia.

That has drawn the spotlight on rising temperatures, which environmental activists say must be addressed by a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

“The searing temperatures currently being experienced by the Arabian Gulf region, and Saudi Arabia in particular, will soon become the norm,” warned Julien Jreissati, Greenpeace’s regional program director.

“The average regional temperature increase due to climate change is significantly higher than the global one, and forecasts clearly show that summer outdoor activities, such as Hajj pilgrimage, will become impossible.”

Authorities are allowing a million pilgrims, including 850,000 from overseas, to attend this year’s hajj, a significant increase after pandemic restrictions kept that number at 60,000 last year and even fewer the year before.

– “God will help us” –

Summer in one of the hottest and wettest regions on earth means suffering for anyone doing anything outdoors – along with the risk of dehydration, heat stroke and heart failure.

Outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, officials have ordered water to be sprayed from long poles to provide some relief.

A few yards away, pilgrims in white robes have taken refuge on the cold marble floors in the shady entrance of a mall while awaiting the next prayer.

“I cover my head because of the heat. It’s too strong. But God will help us,” said Mostapha Zreqa, 57, an Algerian pilgrim, protecting his head with a prayer rug.

Pilgrims moved into white air-conditioned tents in Mina, about seven kilometers from the Grand Mosque, on Thursday.

On Friday, the culmination of the Hajj will take place at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammed is said to have delivered his last sermon.

Pilgrims spend the whole day on the mountain praying under the sun.

While hundreds of buses transported pilgrims to Mina on Thursday, some chose to brave the heat and walk.

“Anything is bearable as long as it is for God,” said 44-year-old Tunisian pilgrim Haled Bin Jomaa as he walked to Mina camp.

– ‘Warning!’ –

Saudi officials have touted their preparations for the extreme conditions, highlighting hundreds of hospital beds for heatstroke patients and the “large number of mist fans” they have provided.

A truck was also provided to distribute umbrellas, bottled water and small fans.

Still, the National Center for Meteorology, which has set up an office in Mina, is sending warnings to pilgrims on their mobile phones, urging them to avoid outdoor rituals at certain times of the day, particularly around midday.

“The importance of meteorological information has increased…due to current global climatic conditions,” said the center’s spokesman Hussein al-Qahtani, noting that it provides hourly weather reports.

“The authorities working with pilgrims on the ground are keen to draw on this information,” he added.

However, some phones may not be able to deliver the updates to their users.

“Warning! The temperature is too high to use your phone,” read a message obtained by an AFP journalist in Mina on Thursday.

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