More than 1.7 million Muslims gather
MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA » In Saudi Arabia, more than 1.7 million pilgrims are marking the start of the hajj pilgrimage on Wednesday by circling the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca — Islam’s holiest site — and performing a series of rites that trace the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims believe the rites also trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible.
The Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God in Islam. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during the five daily prayers.
The hajj is required of all Muslims once in a lifetime. The physically demanding journey tests pilgrims’ patience as they withstand long waits and thick crowds on their path to achieving spiritual purification and repentance.
Egyptian pilgrim Ahmed Ali, on his first hajj, said he was grateful to be in Mecca.
“It’s an indescribable feeling, a spiritual feeling. Thanks to God, I feel great,” he said.