The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is a sacred obligation and fulfills a lifelong dream for many of the world’s 1 billion Muslims.
The hajj culminates today, when more than 2 million Muslims gather on Mount Arafat, 12 miles from Mecca in the Saudi desert. With such huge crowds, tragedy - such as Tuesday’s fire that swept through tents set up for pilgrims - has been common.
Still, rituals of the hajj, a cornerstone of Islam, always go on.
Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to perform the hajj must do so once. It is an observance packed with symbolism that blurs the distinction between prince and pauper.
Men and women wear modest white robes. On arriving in Mecca, they go to circle the Kaaba, a cubic stone structure inside the Grand Mosque and Islam’s holiest site. Muslims turn toward the Kaaba five times daily to pray.
The more pious walked the 12 miles to Arafat. There, the hajj peaks with pilgrims standing together to pray where the Prophet Mohammed, founder of the Muslim faith, delivered his last sermon shortly before his death in 632.
Before the hajj ends, there will be a symbolic stoning of the devil at monuments in the plains of Mina, outside Mecca.
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