Pilgrims use umbrellas to shelter from the sun during the final rites of the Haj pilgrimage in Mina, on Tuesday.—Reuters
Pilgrims use umbrellas to shelter from the sun during the final rites of the Haj pilgrimage in Mina, on Tuesday.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD/RIYADH: With more than 900 deaths reported during the Haj rituals this year, which were marked by searing heat, Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs on Wednesday asked the general public not to heed social media posts about the issues faced by the pilgrims, calling them “inauthentic”.

The fatalities included at least 600 Egyptians, 144 Indonesians, 68 Indians, 60 Jordanians, 35 Pakis­tanis, 35 Tunisians, 11 Iranians and three Senegalese, news agencies quoted diplomats and officials as saying.

Saudi state TV said temperatures on Monday rose as high as 51.8 degrees Celsius in the shade at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Saudi Arabia has not officially provided information on fatalities, though it reported more than 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone.

The Director General of Pakistan’s Haj Mission, Abdul Wahab Soomro, said on Wednesday that as of 4pm on June 18, a total of 35 Pakistani casualties had been reported. This includes 20 in Makkah, six in Madina, four in Mina, three in Arafat and two in Muzdalifah.

In a statement issued in Islamabad, Mr Soomro referred to a video clip circulating on social media that showed bodies lying on footpaths and people appealing to officials — also seen in the video — to put the bodies into the ambulances parked nearby.

The DG said, “It has come to our attention that some videos are circulating on social media websites in which pilgrims are shown and no one is coming to help [them]; these videos are baseless because their authenticity could not be verified and their date or year could not be determined.”

He pointed out that verified information has to come from the Saudi government, which is later verified by the mission.

He asked the public to rely on credible sources for accurate information, adding that the mission received reports of deaths and verified them before taking any action.

 Mist dispensers refreshen Muslim pilgrims at the base of Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage on June 15, 2024. — AFP
Mist dispensers refreshen Muslim pilgrims at the base of Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage on June 15, 2024. — AFP

The ministry said that Haj was challenging this year due to extreme heat and harsh weather conditions, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Centigrade.

He said the Saudi government had set up a system for burials in Haramain, and arrangements were made to send the body of any Pakistani pilgrim back to the home country if the heirs demand so.

Such reports and video clips of pilgrims facing serious difficulties started to surface on June 16, with several pilgrims even claiming they had been locked in the Muzdalifah valley, by the local authorities as all mountains were cordoned off and people there were not allowed to leave.

Many posted that train tickets had been issued but they were facing a delay of around four hours and with no water mist fans many pilgrims had fainted due to high heat and suffocation.

While in the wee hours of Monday, there were footage of darkness and the pilgrims claimed that the power supply had been disrupted.

On Sunday, the ministry of religious affairs shared a statement on the WhatsApp group, calling them routine matters. “They (Saudi authorities) often regulate rush, and open or close certain ways for hujjaj to keep them safe,” the ministry explained.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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