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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 16:16 GMT
In pictures: Hajj preparations

A pilgrim prays on top of Jabal al-Nur on the outskirts of Mecca

More than 1.1 million Muslims are expected in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which begins next week.

Kurdish Iraqi women, draped with the Kurdish flag, get onto an Iraqi airways plane heading Saudi Arabia

All able-bodied Muslims who have the means have a duty to perform the Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam.

Pilgrims climb up Jabal al-Nur from Mecca

Pilgrims wear special white clothes, called ihram, and observe prescribed rites derived from the life of Prophet Abraham.

Muslim pilgrims try to enter the Hira cave

Before the Hajj, many go to Jabal al-Nur, the Mountain of Light, at the top of which is the sacred Hira cave.

Muslim pilgrims try to enter the Hira cave

The prophet Muhammad is said to have received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel in the cave.

The Holy Mosque in Mecca

Mecca is revered as the holiest site of Islam, and the Masjid al-Haram, or Holy Mosque, is the focal point of the Hajj.

The Holy Mosque in Mecca

Pilgrims pray at Mecca's Holy Mosque, and walk around the Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction to perform the Tawaf.


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