Pilgrims performing Tawaf around the Kaaba. Photo courtesy: Zakaryaamr/Wikipedia

The oven-like Saudi summer has already claimed the lives of over 900 pilgrims, including 68 Indians, who travelled to the Middle Eastern Kingdom to take part in the annual pilgrimage. The temperature in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, has hovered around the 50C mark for days, but on Wednesday, it hit 51.8C, as family members of pilgrims rang up several hospitals and pleaded online for news, fearing the worst.

Pilgrims performing Tawaf around the Kaaba. Photo courtesy: Zakaryaamr/Wikipedia

As per reports, about 1.8 million people from all over the world, many of whom are aged and weak, took part in the multi-day, mostly outdoor pilgrimage this year.

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a diplomat in Saudi Arabia said 68 Indians had died during the pilgrimage. “Some are because of natural causes, and we had many old-age pilgrims. And some are due to the weather conditions, that’s what we assume,” the diplomat said.

The agency quoted an Arab diplomat as saying that deaths among Egyptians alone had jumped to “at least 600”. The number was half a day earlier. That total reported deaths stand at 922 so far, according to an AFP.

Apart from Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia and Iraq have also confirmed the deaths of their some of the citizens who are taking in Haj.

Saudi Arabia reported more than 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone. The kingdom has spent billions of dollars on crowd control and safety measures, but controlling nearly 2 million people during the 5-day event remains a daunting task.

What is Haj?

The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims with the means must complete it at least once in their lifetime. The Haj timing is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, shifting forward each year in the Gregorian calendar.

Experts warn about exceeding temperature during pilgrimage

As per a study by MIT, Haj would be held in extreme temperatures from 2047 to 2052, and from 2079 to 2086. Another study published last month by Saudi Arabia stated that the region is witnessing a temperature growth of 0.4C each decade.