This past week in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Muslims from all over the world came together to perform rituals, give thanks and prayer, and celebrate as part of one of the most important Muslim traditions of the year. Over the course of four days, followers completed various stages of ceremony at a number of different locations in and around the city.
The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, also known as Hajj, occurs every year on the 8th to 12th days of the last month of the Islamic calendar. Over 2 million people came this year and, while some feared for potential Ebola outbreaks within a group of that size, an epidemic did not occur.
Hajj is thought by many to be the largest annual collection of people in one place. The crowds are massive in size and the magnitude is truly stunning.
The annual journey to Mecca, also know as Hajj in the Muslim faith, is considered one of the largest yearly gatherings of people on the planet.
All Muslims who are physically and economically able to go to Mecca, a city in Western Saudi Arabia, are mandated by the Pillars of Islam to make the journey at least once in their lives. Muslims come from all over the world to the city to give thanks and prayers and to celebrate.
All men who enter Mecca for the Hajj must wear similar white clothes, symbolizing their equality with one another.
One of the main practices of the Hajj is visiting the Ka'bah, a sacred, cube-shaped building in the center of the Masjid al-Haram, the largest and most holy Mosque in the world. Followers must walk around the Ka'bah seven times and recite prayers.
Next, they visit Mina, an area west of Mecca, where they prepare tents and spend the whole day, offering prayers.
Following the visit to the Ka'bah and Mina, pilgrims continue to the Arafat plains and ascend Mount Mercy to sit vigil.
After visiting and praying at another location known as Muzdalifah, Muslims in Mecca travel again to the Mina to throw pebbles at large pillars to symbolically 'stone the devil'.
Followers then complete several other rituals over the course of three more days including more stone throwing, animal sacrifice, and the shaving of their heads.
After four days or more of prayer, celebration, rituals, and contemplation, followers visit the Ka'bah again and then leave for home.
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