MECCA, Saudi Arabia – More than 1.7 million people from around the world have gathered in Mecca for the start of the annual hajj, a pilgrimage required of all Muslims once in a lifetime.
At the start of hajj Wednesday, pilgrims began circling the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca and carrying out rites believed to trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible.
The journey of the five-day-long pilgrimage begins for many when they depart from their countries dressed in "ihram". For men, that entails wearing only terrycloth, seamless white garments meant to represent unity among Muslims and equality before God. Women wear loose clothing, cover their hair and forgo makeup and nail polish to achieve a state of spiritual purity.