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Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

'It is an ocean of people'

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Mohammad Nahavandi and his wife Mona are making the pilgrimage to Mecca as a couple for the first time. Mona, who was born and raised in the U.S., is an engineering manager who works just down the road from Dulles International Airport.

From here, the couple is embarking on a journey that will be challenging both mentally and physically, says Khalid Iqbal, who is deputy director at their mosque in Sterling, Virginia.

hajj
Muslim pilgrims perform noon prayers on the first day of the Hajj

"We are used to a certain lifestyle in the U.S. that is unlike any other in the world," says Iqbal. "This will be the ultimate test of patience and understanding."

More than two million pilgrims have ascended onto Mecca over the past few days. It is a mix of ages, sexes, ethnicities and languages, says Iqbal, who cautioned his members about health concerns.

"Swine flu is the biggest issue this year," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The organization advised travelers to get a vaccinating shot before their departure, carry hand sanitizers and masks.

Iqbal wants his members to apply common sense. Avoid dehydration and be patient during their travels and among a crowd of millions of fellow pilgrims.

"Remember your ultimate goal," says Iqbal. "The bigger purpose of being a better human being."

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