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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Gloria Oladipo

Maryland couple among 1,300 who died on pilgrimage in sweltering Mecca

people walk in a mosque
Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on 17 June 2024. Photograph: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

A Maryland couple died recently while completing the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia amid extreme heat.

Alieu Wurie, 71, and Isatu Wurie, 65, of Bowie, Maryland, were among the more than 1,300 people who died during the pilgrimage as temperatures exceeded 120F (48.9C).

The hajj pilgrimage is an annual journey to Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Adult Muslims who are physically and financially able to are expected to complete the journey at least once in their lifetime.

As devout Muslims, the Wuries had been preparing for the religious pilgrimage together, the Washington Post reported.

But relatives say that Ehajj and Umrah Tours, the Maryland-based tourist company with whom the couple traveled, failed to protect them amid extreme temperatures.

The company did not have hajj certifications and lacked transportation and accommodations for the Wuries, even though the couple paid $11,500 each for the flight, hotel and transportation.

Saida Wurie told the Post that her parents were forced to wait nearly four hours for transportation to Mount Arafat, the peak of the hajj, where it is believed that the prophet Muhammad gave his final speech.

Ultimately, the Wuries decided to walk up to the mountaintop with other travelers. The couple reportedly died that day.

“Our family has to grieve in this way,” Saida said to the Post. “In our religion, they do believe that if you die in the Holy Land, it’s a beautiful thing, but there are several things that could have been avoided, so I’m just hoping they don’t operate again.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest US Muslim civil rights groups, issued a statement of condolences to Wurie’s loved ones.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the untimely passing of Alhaji Alieu Dausy and Haja Isatu Wurie,” the organization said. “Their dedication to their faith and their community was exemplary, and their loss is deeply felt by all who knew them.”

Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks also mourned the Wuries’s deaths while celebrating their company contributions in a statement on X.

“We are extremely saddened by the sudden passing of Haja Isatu Wurie and her husband, Alhaji Dausy Wurie,” she wrote. “Haja served as a member of our African Diaspora Advisory Board and was also a member of the Jamil-Ul-Jalil Organization.”

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