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Climate change will make Hajj dangerous, new study warns

The Ka’bah in Makkah – ©Sultan Ahmed

Following new scientific research calculating that rising temperatures will make it too dangerous for Muslims to perform their holy pilgrimage, international aid agency Islamic Relief UK is calling on the British Muslim community to take action on climate change before it is too late

In a new article published by the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, scientists show that rising temperatures mean holy pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is likely to become hazardous to human health. And Islamic Relief UK has now come together with the scientists to draw attention to the severity of the crisis.
Every year, millions of Muslims travel to Mecca and fulfil one of the major pillars of Islam, the Hajj. Two million pilgrims pray outdoors from dawn to dusk and walk great distances to perform their religious duties in already high temperatures.
Through the analysis of historical climate models and past data, scientists project that should the world’s emissions continue in a business-as-usual scenario, temperatures in Mecca will rise to a level that the human body cannot cope with from as early as next year. But crucially, mitigating climate change through reducing emissions could limit the severity of these temperatures.
Conditions will be particularly severe when Hajj falls within the summer months. Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, the dates for Hajj change each year, and for five to seven years at a time, the trip falls over summer, when temperatures soar.
According to the research, as soon as next year, summer days in Saudi Arabia could surpass the “extreme danger heat-stress threshold”. When skin temperature reaches this level – and combined with a certain level of humidity in the air – sweat no longer evaporates efficiently, so the body can no longer cool itself and overheats.
Pilgrims who travel to Hajj are already at risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke which can be fatal, with the elderly and vulnerable most at risk.
Through calculating how climate change is likely to impact conditions in Saudi Arabia in the future, the researchers estimate that heat and humidity levels during Hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold:
– six percent of the time by 2020;
– 20 percent of the time from 2045 and 2053;
– 42 percent of the time between 2079 and 2086.
These years are when Hajj falls within the summer months making conditions more severe.
According to the study, mitigating climate change could reduce the frequency of passing this extreme danger threshold to:
– One percent of the time by 2020;
– 15 percent of the time between 2045 and 2053;
– 19 percent of the time between 2079 and 2086.

With this in mind, Islamic Relief UK is urging the Muslim community to step up and take action on this Climate Emergency. The charity is calling on Muslims across the UK to highlight this devastating finding to their MPs and call on them to urge immediate action by the UK government in enacting policies that can reduce climate change. In particular, the charity is calling on supporters to push for action by the new Prime Minister on enacting policies to reach the recently agreed target of “net zero” emissions by, if not before, 2045.
Tufail Hussain, Director of Islamic Relief UK said:
“This important research tells us that it’s now or never to take up the fight against climate change. Already it is one of the greatest threats to the lives of people we support. Floods and droughts kill people and devastate lives with disease, malnutrition, loss of income and mass migrations. And while impacting the poorest and most vulnerable the most, the climate crisis is caused by emissions released in the most part by people in more well-off nations.
“With the threat of catastrophic global heating becoming more evident each year, Islamic Relief UK is calling on the British Muslim community to take action before it is too late.
“It is time for the Muslim community to become the leaders in the fight, with not just countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan under threat now, but increasingly the holy site of Mecca.
“We now have a double calamity in sight. If we don’t act now, not only will people suffer the impact of more frequent and intense disasters, but our children born from today will no longer be able to perform the sacred duty of Hajj.”
Elfatih Eltahir, the civil and environmental engineer who led the research, said:
“When the Hajj happens in summer, you can imagine with climate change and increasing heat-stress levels conditions could be unfavourable for outdoor activity. Hajj is the largest gathering of Muslims in the world. We are trying to bring in the perspective of what climate change could do to such large-scale outdoor activity.”