2 million expected in Mecca for hajj pilgrimage, a pillar of Islam
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2 million expected in Mecca for hajj pilgrimage, a pillar of Islam

All Muslims with the means to do so are required to make the trip once in a lifetime; rituals include entering state of purity, stoning of the devil

  • Mulism pilgrims perform prayers around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city.  (Abdel Ghani BASHIR / AFP)
    Mulism pilgrims perform prayers around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city. (Abdel Ghani BASHIR / AFP)
  • Muslim pilgrims join one of the Hajj rituals on Mount Arafat near Mecca early on September 11, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
    Muslim pilgrims join one of the Hajj rituals on Mount Arafat near Mecca early on September 11, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
  • Muslim pilgrims gather at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)
    Muslim pilgrims gather at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)
  • Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Arafat as part of the Hajj pilgrimage early on August 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Karim Sahib)
    Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Arafat as part of the Hajj pilgrimage early on August 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Karim Sahib)
  • A Saudi security guard stands as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
    A Saudi security guard stands as Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — The annual hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia’s city of Mecca is one of five pillars of Islam that all Muslims who are able to are expected to complete at least once.

More than two million believers from across the planet converge for several days of rituals beginning on Friday that retrace Prophet Mohammed’s last pilgrimage to Mecca.

Here is a rundown of the steps of the hajj, which is one of the largest gatherings in the world and closed to non-Muslims.

White garments

Pilgrims must first enter a state of purity, called ihram, which requires special dress and behavior.

Men wear a seamless shroud-like white garment that emphasizes unity regardless of social status or nationality.

Women must wear loose dresses, also often white, exposing only their faces and hands.

Muslim pilgrims wait for prayers at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca on August 8, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city. (Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Pilgrims are prohibited from wearing perfume, cutting their nails or trimming their hair or beards, or arguing.

First rituals

The first ritual requires walking seven times around the Kaaba, a large black cube structure at the center of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Made from granite and draped in cloth, the Kaaba stands nearly 15 meters (50 feet) tall.

Believed to have first been built by Adam and then rebuilt by Abraham 4,000 years ago, it is towards the Kaaba that Muslims turn to pray wherever they are in the world.

Pilgrims next walk seven times between two stone spots in the mosque.

They then move on to Mina, around five kilometers (three miles) away, ahead of the main rite of the pilgrimage at Mount Arafat.

Mount Arafat

The climax of the hajj is the gathering on Mount Arafat, about 10 kilometers from Mina, where it is believed that Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon.

Pilgrims assemble on the 70 meter-high hill and its surrounding plain for hours of prayers and Koran recitals, remaining there until evening.

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy), southeast of the Saudi holy city of Mecca, on Arafat Day which is the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage early on August 20, 2018. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP)

After sunset they head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they gather several dozen pebbles to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

‘Stoning of the devil’

The last major ritual of the hajj is back at Mina where pilgrims throw seven stones at each of three huge concrete walls representing Satan.

The ritual is an emulation of Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade him from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Muslim pilgrims take part in the symbolic ‘stoning of the devil’ at the Jamarat Bridge in Mina, near Mecca, which marks the final major rite of the hajj on September 1, 2017. (Karim Sahib / AFP)

After the first stoning rite, the Eid al-Adha feast of sacrifice begins, marking the end of the hajj.

Sheep are slaughtered, in reference to God’s provision of a lamb for sacrifice instead of Ishmael, in a ceremony also held at the same time around the world.

Muslim pilgrims gather at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city. (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Men then shave their heads or trim their hair while women cut a fingertip-length off their locks.

The pilgrims can change back into normal clothing, returning to circumambulate the Kaaba and complete their stone-throwing rituals before heading home.

Four other pillars

The hajj is the last pillar of Islam and required by every Muslim at least once in their lifetime, if they are healthy enough to do so and have the means.

The four other essential pillars are: profession of the Muslim faith; daily prayers; alms-giving; and fasting from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan.

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