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Hajj 101: Five facts about the Muslim pilgrimage

More than two million Muslims have flocked to Saudi Arabia this week for the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that Muslims are obligated to make at least once in their lifetime. Their destination is Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, and the pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam, making it one of the religion’s chief obligations. The number of pilgrims that travel to Saudi Arabia every year have made the Hajj, which typically lasts five days, one of the greatest religious events in the world.

A Muslim pilgrim prays on the Mountain of Mercy near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Nov. 15, 2010. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws 2,5 million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world.
Hassan Ammar/AP
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For many Muslims, making the Hajj involves traveling long distances and incurring huge expenses. In India, the government has actually offered Hajj subsidies to airlines to offer discounted rates to Muslim pilgrims making the trip to Saudi Arabia, according to the Indian newspaper the Hindustan Times.

Once arriving in Saudi Arabia but before entering Mecca, all pilgrims must stop at a station outside the pilgrimage boundaries to cleanse, declare his intention to make the pilgrimage, and, if male, don ritual clothing known as Ihram. A pilgrim’s Hajj does not officially begin until they have completed these steps.


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