MECCA, Saudi Arabia – Muslims awaiting the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage have climbed a historic mountaintop looking over the holy city of Mecca, taking in its modern sights from a place revered in Islamic history.
The Quran holds that the Prophet Muhammad heard his first revelation from God while atop Noor Mountain. On Friday, the faithful visited Hiraa cave, believed to be where the prophet prayed and received the divine inspiration to preach and spread Islam.
The journey up Noor Mountain isn't easy, though children played on the stone steps ascending its side, the rooftops of modern Mecca visible below. Once at the top, worshippers stopped to pose for photographs at the cave's mouth.
Others prayed facing down to Mecca's Grand Mosque, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba shrine that all of Islam's 1.6 billion followers pray toward five times a day. The tip of the Mecca Royal Clock Tower Hotel could be seen rising above the rolling mountains surrounding the city.
On Saturday, more than 2 million worshippers are expected to begin the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, an act of faith required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life.
Here is a selection of images by Associated Press photographer Nariman El-Mofty showing the faithful atop Noor Mountain and in Mecca ahead of the start of the hajj.
Follow Nariman El-Mofty on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NMofty and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/narimanelmofty .
Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo