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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 16:52 GMT
In pictures: Hajj begins in Mecca

Muslim pilgrims pray together on the Mount of Mercy in the plain of Arafat outside Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca

Millions of Muslim pilgrims are taking part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

A pilgrim prays as others climb at Jabal Al Rahma holy mountain, the mountain of forgiveness, in Arafat outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia

All Muslims who are financially and physically able are required to perform Hajj once in their lifetime.

Pilgrims climb Mount Arafat as the culmination of their pilgrimage to Mecca

For many, standing on Mount Arafat before sunset is the climax of their journey.

An Asian Muslim pilgrim sits with her daughter on a camel while others ascend the Mount of Mercy in the plain of Arafat

Pilgrims - young and old - come from Muslim communities around the world to take part.

Pilgrims around the Kaaba

Pilgrims must walk seven times round the Kaaba, the imposing black-draped building at the centre of the Grand Mosque.

The Grand Mosque in Mecca, illuminated at night and reflected on a marble surface

It is the life-long ambition of millions of devout Muslims to perform the Hajj.

Pilgrims leaving the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Male pilgrims don the white, seamless Ihram robes for the duration of the rituals.

Pigeons at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

It is meant to be a time of harmony, with arguments and fights forbidden, along with hunting or killing animals.

Pilgrims on Mount Noura outside Mecca

Some get to visit the mountain cave where Muhammad is thought to have received his first revelation from God.

African pilgrims on the Hajj

Women do not wear the Ihram robe, but must not wear anything against their face - even if that is their practice at home.

Saudi police detain a Malaysian pilgrim who did not have the correct papers at al-Shemesi check point near the border of the Hajj area

Security is key for the Saudi authorities and anyone without the correct papers is detained.

Saudi security deploy at the chokepoint where two million pilgrims will stone the pillars of Jamaraat representing Satan in Mina

The Saudis want to prevent a repeat of the stampedes in which hundreds of pilgrims have died in past years.

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