Millions gather at Mecca in intense heat for annual Hajj pilgrimage

ITV News' Shehab Khan offers a rare glimpse of what it is like to make the Hajj pilgrimage, as he joined more than two million people in Mecca for the holy Muslim festival

Millions of Muslim pilgrims braved intense heat to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

One of the largest religious gatherings on earth, about 1.8 million pilgrims have travelled to Mecca as Muslims celebrated the first full day of the Islamic festival of Eid.

The pilgrimage has returned to full capacity for the first time since the Covid pandemic, and for the first time, women are able to attend unaccompanied by a male guardian.

With morning temperatures rising past 42C, huge crowds of pilgrims walked or took buses to the vast complex just outside the holy city, where large pedestrian bridges lead past three wide pillars representing the devil.

Around 1.8 million are believed to be braving the heat in Saudi Arabia this year. Credit: AP

Using pebbles collected the night before at a campsite known as Muzdalifa, the pilgrims stone the pillars.

It's a reenactment of the story of the Prophet Ibrahim - known as Abraham in Christian and Jewish traditions - who is said to have hurled stones at Satan to resist temptation.

The ceremony was marred by tragedy on a number of occasions in the 1990s and 2000s, when hundreds died in stampedes during the stoning ritual.

Saudi authorities have since built an expanded network of massive pedestrian bridges and redesigned the site to make it safer for pilgrims.

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Credit: AP

But a new danger has emerged this year - the heat.

Temperatures soared on Tuesday as Muslims marked the spiritual high point of the pilgrimage by spending the day praying at Mount Arafat, where there was no breeze and almost no shade.

People huddled under umbrellas, dousing themselves with bottled water.

Saudi authorities have deployed tens of thousands of health workers for the pilgrimage and volunteers were handing out water, and the Health Ministry said late on Tuesday that it had treated 287 cases of sunstroke and heat exhaustion.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to undertake it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able.

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