*** ----> Rare rain delights hajj pilgrims in Mina amid extreme summer heat | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Rare rain delights hajj pilgrims in Mina amid extreme summer heat

AFP |Mina, Saudi Arabia

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Temperature spiked in Mecca yesterday as Muslim pilgrims wrapped up the hajj in searing conditions, with more than a dozen heat-related deaths confirmed.

However, a light drizzle in Mina in the afternoon delighted not only local residents but also hajj pilgrims from around the world who were performing the stoning ritual.

The half-hour drizzle, accompanied by thunder, encouraged locals to step out into the streets without umbrellas, to capture the rare weather event. For the locals, such rain is unusual during the summer season.

“This is the summer season, there’s supposed to be no rain, but it happened. I am quite surprised,” said Abdulrahim Althobaiti, a liaison officer for Malaysian and other international journalists covering this year’s Hajj season under the invitation of the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

According to Abdulrahim, there was no rain during last year’s hajj season. One of the world’s largest religious gatherings unfolded during the oven-like Saudi summer again this year, and authorities recorded more than 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone, the Saudi health ministry said.

Yesterday, according to the Saudi weather service, temperatures reached 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit) at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, where pilgrims were circling the Kaaba, the large black cubic structure towards which all Muslims pray.

‘Stoning the devil’

In nearby Mina, where a spokesman for the national meteorology service said the temperature was 46C, other pilgrims threw stones at three concrete walls - a ritual known as “stoning the devil” that is the last major step of the hajj, while struggling under the burning sun.

Jordan’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that 14 Jordanian pilgrims had died “after suffering sun stroke due to the extreme heat wave”, and that 17 others were “missing”. Iran reported the deaths of five pilgrims but did not specify the cause, while Senegal’s foreign ministry said that three others had died.

An Indonesian health ministry official, currently in Saudi Arabia, said yesterday that 136 Indonesian pilgrims had died during the hajj including at least three of heat stroke.

Karwan Stoni, official spokesperson for pilgrims from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, told AFP yesterday that 13 pilgrims had died, including 11 women.

Heat was “one of the main reasons” for the deaths, along with heart attacks, he said, adding that 12 of the dead did not have official hajj permits and so could not access air-conditioned spaces made available by Saudi authorities.

“The holy sites today record the highest temperatures since the beginning of hajj... that may reach 49 degrees Celsius, and we advise the guests of God not to be exposed to the sun,” the Saudi health ministry said, according to state-affiliated Al-Ekhbariya channel.

The ministry on Sunday recorded 2,764 cases of heat exhaustion due to sun exposure and “non-compliance with guidelines”, which include taking shelter from the sun during the afternoon.