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MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Greater than 2 million Muslims started the annual hajj pilgrimage at first mild on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, circling the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca that Islam’s trustworthy face 5 occasions every day throughout their prayers.

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The five-day hajj pilgrimage represents one of many world’s greatest gatherings yearly, and is required of all able-bodied Muslims as soon as of their life.

The hajj gives pilgrims a chance to really feel nearer to God amid the Muslim world’s many challenges, together with the specter of violence and extremists within the Mideast and the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

“We’re very blessed by Allah to be on this place, and we pray to Allah to make the Islamic nations from the West to the East in a greater state of affairs,” mentioned Essam-Eddin Afifi, a pilgrim from Egypt. “We pray for the Islamic nations to beat their enemies.”

Muslims imagine the hajj retraces the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad, in addition to these of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael within the Bible. Muslims imagine God stayed the hand of Ibrahim after commanding him to sacrifice his son, Ismail. Within the Christian and Jewish model of the story, Abraham is ordered to kill his different son, Isaac.

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The Kaaba represents the metaphorical home of God and the oneness of God.

Muslims circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise seven occasions whereas reciting supplications to God, then stroll between the 2 hills traveled by Hagar, Ibrahim’s spouse. Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, encompasses the Kaaba and the 2 hills.

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A Muslim worshipper makes use of his cellphone to livestream the group circling across the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, on the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy metropolis of Mecca on August 17, 2018.

Ahmad Al-rubaye / AFP/Getty Photographs

Earlier than heading to Mecca, many pilgrims go to town of Medina, the place the Prophet Muhammad is buried and the place he constructed his first mosque.

After prayers in Mecca, pilgrims will head to an space known as Mount Arafat on Monday, the place the Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon. From there, pilgrims will head to an space known as Muzdalifa, choosing up pebbles alongside the way in which for a symbolic stoning of the satan and a casting away of sins that takes place within the Mina valley for 3 days.

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On the hajj’s finish, male pilgrims will shave their hair and girls will reduce a lock of hair in an indication of renewal for finishing the pilgrimage. All over the world, Muslims will mark the tip of hajj with a celebration known as Eid al-Adha. The vacation, remembering Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, sees Muslims slaughter sheep and cattle, distributing the meat to the poor.

Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the spokesman of the Saudi Inside Ministry, advised journalists Saturday that over 2 million Muslims from overseas and inside the dominion can be collaborating on this 12 months’s hajj.

Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud household stakes its legitimacy partially on its administration of the holiest websites in Islam. King Salman’s official title is the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” at Mecca and Medina. Different Saudi kings, and the Ottoman rulers of the Hijaz area earlier than them, all have adopted the honorary title

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The dominion has spent billions of {dollars} of its huge oil revenues on safety and security measures, notably in Mina, the place a number of the hajj’s deadliest incidents have occurred.

The worst in recorded historical past passed off solely three years in the past. On Sept. 24, 2015, a stampede and crush of pilgrims in Mina killed no less than 2,426 folks, based on an Related Press depend.

The official Saudi toll of 769 folks killed and 934 injured has not modified since solely two days afterward. The dominion has by no means addressed the discrepancy, nor has it launched any outcomes of an investigation authorities promised to conduct over the catastrophe.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia additionally faces threats from al-Qaida militants and a neighborhood faction of the Islamic State group. Days earlier, the Inside Ministry acknowledged arresting a Saudi carrying an explosive vest within the kingdom’s central al-Qassim area who shot at safety forces.

In the meantime, a Saudi-led battle in Yemen in opposition to Shiite rebels drags on with out an finish in sight. The rebels have fired over 150 ballistic missiles on the dominion throughout a battle that has seen Saudi airstrikes hit markets and hospitals, killing civilians.

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