Hajj

The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia has always been the spiritual center of the Islamic faith: the world's 1.3 billion Muslims genuflect in its direction during prayers. But in the final months of the year, Islam's holiest city becomes even more vital, as an estimated 2.5 million pilgrims make their once-in-a-lifetime journey to the site. This pilgrimage, known as the Hajj, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (the others are the profession of Allah as the only God and Mohammed as his prophet; fasting during Ramadan; charitable giving and ritual prayer) by which every practicing Muslim must abide. This year, the Hajj starts Nov. 25; it takes place annually between the 8th and 12th days of Dhu-al-Hijjah, the final month of the lunar Islamic calendar, a time when God's spirit is believed to be closest to earth. (See photos from the Hajj.).

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