Muslim faithful gather for pilgrimage
Saudi Arabia is preparing to host the annual hajj pilgrimage today, as more than 1.6m Muslim faithful from abroad gather in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The pilgrimage represents one of the five pillars of Islam and is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life.
The hajj offers pilgrims an opportunity to feel closer to God amid the Muslim world's many challenges, including the threat of extremists in the Middle East after Isil was beaten back in Iraq and Syria, and the plight of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority.
"My feeling is indescribable to perform the hajj," said Imad Abdel-Raheem, from Egypt. "I also want to pray for all Muslim countries, for them to live free in all places, in Palestine and in Burma, in all places, in Afghanistan and in India."
Men attending the hajj dress in only terrycloth, seamless white garments meant to represent unity among Muslims and equality before God. Women wear loose clothing, cover their hair and forgo makeup and nail polish.
Since arriving, many have circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca - Islam's holiest site. 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 daily prayers.