July 15, 2024

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Bowie couple dies on Hajj to Mecca during heat wave

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A Bowie couple with lifelong dreams to travel to Mecca for Hajj died in Saudi Arabia during this month’s pilgrimage.

Alieu Wurie, 71, and Isatu Wurie, 65, were longtime Bowie residents originally from Sierra Leone. As passionate practicing Muslims, they had long planned on taking the religious pilgrimage to Mecca together, and, after divorcing in the early 2010s and reuniting last year, they finally went together this year.

Over 1,300 people have died during this summer’s Hajj amid the heat and crowds, according to The Associated Press. Daily high temperatures have ranged from 117 to 120 degrees during the pilgrimage.

The Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam, according to the embassy of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Muslims are expected to fulfill each of the five pillars during their lifetimes. The other four are profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, according to the embassy.

The Wuries’ death notification stated that they died June 15 of natural causes, said their daughter, Saida Wurie, which she later learned likely meant heatstroke. In the last text Isatu Wurie sent to her daughter, she mentioned that she and Alieu had just walked for more than two hours in the heat.

Saida Wurie said her parents faced issues on the trip from the start. There were complications with the documentation, credentials and accommodations that she said her parents paid $11,500 each for and arranged with a travel agency. Certain meals, transportation and air-conditioned tents they expected were not provided, she said.

Around Monday morning, members of the roughly 80-person group the Wuries were doing the pilgrimage with reached out to the members of the Wurie family stateside. The couple hadn’t returned to their hotel for more than 24 hours and they were the only two missing from the group, Saida Wurie said.

Isatu and her daughter were sharing their locations on their phones, leading the group in Mecca to hope the family back in the United States could find the couple.

Bowie couple Alieu and Isatu Wurie who died on their Hajj in Mecca last week. (Handout)
Bowie couple Alieu and Isatu Wurie, who died on their Hajj in Saudi Arabia on June 15. (Handout)

“We were calling the Ministry of Health; we were calling the embassy,” Saida Wurie said.

On Wednesday, the family received a call from a member of the group in Mecca. He said he’d gone to a few hospitals to find the Wuries. He told Saida he had found their names and passport numbers on a list of deceased persons, she said. Saida and her siblings soon learned her parents had already been buried, she said.

The Wuries had been aware of the heat and crowds often characteristic of Hajj, and they’d done what they could to gear up.

“Leading up to the days [of the trip], they were packing their Liquid IVs; they were thinking about those things,” Saida Wurie said. “They actually, months in advance, started walking miles in the neighborhood to prepare them for the trip.”

But experiencing that heat with those massive crowds, “I don’t think they were ready for,” Wurie said.

The Wurie children are heading to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to find their parents and retrieve their belongings. They have been in contact with the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia in hopes that diplomats can help them navigate a country and language with which they are unfamiliar.

Alieu and Isatu Wurie knew each other for most of their lives, as their mothers were friends. They married in 1983, divorced around 2013 and remarried in December 2023, their daughter said.

Alieu attended the University of Maryland, College Park briefly after the couple arrived in the states and soon decided to settle in Bowie in the 1980s. Isatu Wurie later attended Bowie State University.

“They loved the Lanham/Bowie area,” Wurie said. “This is where all their family and friends are.”

Bowie couple Alieu and Isatu Wurie who died on their Hajj in Mecca last week. (Handout)
Bowie couple Alieu and Isatu Wurie, who died on their Hajj in Saudi Arabia on June 15. (Handout)

Isatu Wurie was deeply involved in the Muslim community in Bowie, said her daughter and Prince George’s County Councilmember Wala Blegay. Blegay credits her with opening her eyes to the challenges faced by the county’s sizable Muslim population and even helping her getting elected in 2022.

Blegay met with Isatu Wurie during her campaign for County Council.

“She made it clear that the Muslim community needed to be included more,” Blegay said. “She really broke down the needs.”

Wurie accompanied Blegay to mosques in the county and explained the challenges Muslim schoolchildren in Prince George’s face, such as their prayer requirements conflicting with school hours.

“I tried to be a voice [for the Muslim community] because of her,” Blegay said.

Isatu urged Blegay to lobby for a Muslim community center in Prince George’s County. Blegay said it’s something she’ll continue to advocate for.

Blegay said she reached out to Isatu last week to help out with an immigration clinic she was hosting. When she didn’t answer, Blegay knew something had happened.

The Wuries leave behind three children, Mohammed, 40; Alieu, 39; and Saida Wurie, 33; as well as four granddaughters, Sameera, 13; Aliyah, 12; Samiyah, 11; and Sariyah Wurie, 10.

Alieu Wurie primarily lived in Sierra Leone over the past few years and worked in the African nation’s education ministry, matching public schools with government funds, Saida said.

More than 1,300 people died during Hajj, many of them after walking in the scorching heat

Late last year, Isatu Wurie retired as a head nurse after a 30-year career at Kaiser Permanente.

“She was my best friend,” Saida Wurie said. “She took care of business; she made sure I was the same way. There’s nothing in this world that she couldn’t figure out.”

According to Saida Wurie, by the end of their lives, her parents had completed all five pillars of Islam.

“I’m very happy that they got to fulfill those dreams before they passed away,” Saida Wurie said. “I know that they died in such a holy land, and I know that they’re on to a better place and that one day I will see them again.”

Bowie couple Alieu and Isatu Wurie who died on their Hajj in Mecca last week. (Handout)
Bowie couple Alieu and Isatu Wurie, who died on their Hajj in Saudi Arabia on June 15. (Handout)

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