Hajj 2012, A Sacred Journey

The Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam and one of the largest religious pilgrimages in the world, is currently taking place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Starting earlier this week, and continuing through Monday, approximately 3.4 million Muslims from around the world are participating in several rituals, including the Tawaf -- the circumambulation of the Kaaba, the enormous cube-shaped building in the center of the Masjid al-Haram mosque. The pilgrims are are also taking part in the Sa'i, traveling back and forth between the mountains of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, and Ramy al-Jamarat, in which they throw pebbles at three walls in the city of Mina to show their defiance of the Devil. The rituals and locations date back to the 7th Century, but much of the surrounding area has grown and changed radically over the years. For comparison, I've included several historical images of Mecca as well, dating back as far as 1889. The rest of the photos depict this year's Hajj and the pilgrims on their sacred journey.
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1. Muslim pilgrims pray at the top of Mount Noor, near where the Hiraa cave is located on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on October 21, 2012. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world.




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2. (1 of 4) For context, a series of historical images of the Hajj. Here, in 1889, pilgrims gather in the Valley of Mina, just outside Mecca with tents, camels, and livestock.




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3. (2 of 4) In 1889, a view of the Kaaba inside the Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca.




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4. (3 of 4) On September 7, 1954, Muslims visit the Kaaba, during a pilgrimage to Mecca.




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5. (4 of 4) An aerial view of Mecca and the the Masjid al-Haram in 1988.




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6. The Masjid al-Haram, as it stands today. Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as they pray inside and outside the Grand mosque in Mecca, on October 22, 2012.




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7. The Grand Mosque (bottom) and four-faced Mecca Clock Tower (left), viewed from the top of Mount Noor where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran through Gabriel in the Hera Cave, in Mecca, on October 21, 2012.




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8. Clouds gather over the Saudi holy city of Mecca as seen from the top of Mount Noor, on the outskirts of Mecca, on October 21, 2012.




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9. Muslim pilgrims pray on a rocky hill called the Mount Mercy on the Plain of Arafat near Mecca, on October 25, 2012.




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10. Muslim pilgrims climb Mount Mercy on the Plain of Arafat, on October 25, 2012.




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11. Muslim pilgrims atop Mount Mercy, during the peak of the annual Halj pilgrimage, on October 25, 2012.




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12. Muslim pilgrims climb Mount Noor where Muslims believe Prophet Mohammad received the first words of the Koran through Gabriel, during the annual Hajj in Mecca, on October 21, 2012.




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13. Muslim pilgrims pray at the top of Mount Noor, on October 21, 2012.




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14. Pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on October 25, 2012.




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15. Lightning strikes, seen from the top of Mount Noor during the 2012 Hajj, on October 21, 2012.




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16. The Grand Mosque at night, viewed from the top of Mount Noor, on October 21, 2012.




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17. Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque in Mecca, on October 18, 2012.




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18. Pilgrims pray outside the Grand mosque in Mecca, on October 22, 2012. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world.




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19. Pilgrims circle the Kaaba inside the Grand mosque in Mecca, on October 22, 2012.




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20. Muslim pilgrims pray in unison inside the Grand mosque, on October 22, 2012.




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21. Pilgrims in motion near the Kaaba inside the Grand mosque, on October 23, 2012.




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22. Pilgrims at prayer inside the Grand mosque, on October 22, 2012.




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23. A whirl of pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray in front of Station of Ibrahim "Maqam Ibrahim" at the Grand mosque during the annual Hajj, on October 23, 2012.




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24. Hajj pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque, on October 23, 2012.




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25. Muslim pilgrims touch the the Yamani corner of the Kaaba, as they pass by it inside the Grand mosque, on October 23, 2012.




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26. The four-faced Mecca Clock Tower, with characters that read "There is no god only the God, and Mohammed is his prophet" before the moon, in Mecca, on October 22, 2012.




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27. A boy stands beside his father, as Muslim pilgrims pray in the Grand mosque in Mecca, on October 23, 2012.




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28. Pilgrims pass by, and reach out to touch the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca, on Tuesday, October 23, 2012.




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29. Muslims circle the Kaaba, on October 23, 2012.




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30. Pilgrims head towards Mount Mercy at the peak of the annual Hajj, on October 25, 2012.




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31. Muslim faithful pray outside Namira mosque in Arafat, near Mecca, on October 25, 2012.




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32. Muslims perform the noon prayer outside the Namira mosque in the plain of Arafat on the outskirts of Mecca, on October 25, 2012. Vast crowds of Muslim pilgrims, all dressed in white, flocked from early in the morning to Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia's west to take part in the main rituals of the annual Hajj.




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33. Thousands of pilgrims perform the noon prayer in the plain of Arafat, on October 25, 2012.




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34. The four-faced Mecca Clock Tower, seen from the top of Mount Noor, in Mecca, during the Hajj on October 21, 2012.