Page last updated at 22:28 GMT, Sunday, 7 December 2008

In pictures: Hajj pilgrimage

Muslim praying on Mt Noor, near Mecca

About three million Muslims from around the world have gathered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The Great Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

The Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able. Some rituals take place in Mecca's Great Mosque.

Pilgrims arrive in the valley of Mina before heading to Arafat

The first part of the pilgrimage involves travelling to Mina, outside Mecca, and remaining there until dawn the next morning.

Police officer holds sign

From Mina, pilgrims make their way to Arafat, where they stand in the open praising Allah and meditating.

Pilgrims pray at the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat near Mecca.

On a rocky hill, they pray to Allah, in fulfilment of their life's dream.

Reading Koran on Arafat

Pilgrims spend the day reading the Koran and praying - a sea of white bodies spilling over the valley.

Praying

Muslims believe the hill is the site where the Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon in 632 AD three months before his death.

Woman prays

Muslims believe the last passage of their holy book, the Koran, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the sermon.

Prayer beads

After sunset, pilgrims leave Arafat and head to Muzdalifah, where they collect pebbles for the next phase - the symbolic stoning of the devil represented by three pillars in Mina.

Pilgrims pose for a snapshot near the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat near Mecca.

For many, the Hajj is a memorable occasion to be treasured for years to come.




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