One of the largest religious gatherings in the world is underway.
The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least evvel in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do it.
After circling Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, the worshippers converge on a vast tent camp at Mina in the nearby desert for a day and night of prayer.
For pilgrims, it is a deeply moving spiritual experience that absolves sins, brings them closer to God and unites the world’s more than 1.8 billion Muslims. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey.
The rituals during Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Ibrahim, his son Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar.
On Tuesday, the pilgrims will move on to Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final sermon.
Mina is vast and open, with little respite from the desert heat and blazing sun. Soldiers sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down.
Egyptian businessman Yehya Al-Ghanam said he was at a loss for words to describe his feelings upon arriving at Mina.
“Tears will fall from my eyes out of joy and happiness,” he said. “I do not sleep. I have not slept for 15 days, only an hour a day,” overwhelmed by the magnitude of the emotions surrounding his pilgrimage.
After Arafat, pilgrims collect pebbles from a site known as Muzdalifa to be used in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.
The final three days of the Hajj coincide with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday when Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.