Hajj pilgrims advised to take precautions against scorching heat

RIYADH: Millions of Muslims from across the world have arrived to perform Hajj in Makkah during the hottest season of the year in the Kingdom, leading to concerns regarding the challenges that may await them in the days to come. 

Unpredictable weather can affect the health and safety of pilgrims, especially the elderly. A primary concern is the extreme heat. As global temperatures continue to rise, heat waves in the region have become more frequent and intense every year.

Last year, temperatures in Makkah ranged between 43-45 degrees Celsius during Hajj, affecting the health of pilgrims, particularly the elderly, who are vulnerable to heat-related problems such as heat stroke and dehydration.

Ayman bin Salem Ghulam, CEO of the Saudi National Center for Meteorology, recently told a press conference in Makkah that maximum temperatures at the holy sites were expected to reach between 45-48 degrees Celsius in the afternoons.

Many elderly pilgrims have underlying medical conditions that can be triggered by heat, making them even more susceptible to health complications. 

Dr. Fakhr Al-Ayoubi, president of the Cardio Clinical Pharmacy Group in Saudi Arabia, explained to Arab News how the rising temperatures impact the immune system and increase the risk of developing critical health conditions. 

“Increased heat can lead to dehydration, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses, which can weaken the immune system and make individuals more susceptible to infections or illnesses,” she said. “It is therefore advisable for Hajj pilgrims to take appropriate precautions to stay hydrated, cool, and healthy during the pilgrimage, especially in the face of changing climate conditions.”

She also talked about the significance of vaccination prior to performing Hajj, not only to protect the health of the individual but also that of other pilgrims.

“Vaccines save lives, prevent diseases, and keep people safe. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this with how busy our lives get, but by ensuring that we stay safe as individuals through immunizations, we can all play a role in building a healthier, more productive community,” she explained.

Al-Ayoubi emphasized the importance of strengthening and safeguarding the immune system to protect pilgrims. 

“If pilgrims become faced with weakened immune systems, that means that they are more vulnerable to catching diseases, and this creates a need to safeguard their health through vaccination,” she said. “This is especially important during Hajj, where it is commonly crowded, and people are in very close proximity to each other.”

The Saudi government and Hajj authorities have implemented a range of measures, including expanding medical facilities at various Hajj locations, providing more areas for pilgrims to rest in, and enhancing transportation and logistics to better accommodate the needs of pilgrims.

The imams and khatibs of the Two Holy Mosques have been directed to shorten Friday sermons and prayers during the Hajj season in consideration of the severe heat pilgrims are facing this year.

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque, said the directive aims to ensure the safety of worshippers in the mataf, roof, and courtyards of the mosques.

The decision is based on the Islamic principle of alleviating the difficulties of worshippers, such as those attending Friday prayers during the Hajj season.

Al-Sudais noted the importance of delivering concise and impactful messages during sermons. He had previously instructed imams to reduce the amount of recitation and the gap between the adhan and iqamah during the Hajj season to ease the burden on worshippers, particularly considering overcrowding and the presence of vulnerable and elderly people.

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