Two million Muslims have started the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

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Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God. The hajj offers pilgrims an opportunity to feel closer to God. Muslims believe the hajj retraces the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as those of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail known as Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible.  As a request of their religion and tradition, all Muslims who are financially and physically able must perform the five-day pilgrimage  at least once in their lives. In temperatures reaching the 40-degree mark, these people will perform rites in the Mina valley, mount Arafat and in Mecca. Pilgrims are not allowed to cut their hair, wear perfume, or engage in sexual acts. The ritual ends with men completely shaving their heads. The Hajj includes the Eid al-Adha festival, which is one of Islam’s two major festivals and involves the sacrifice of an animal, usually a sheep, goat, or cow.

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Around 54 million pilgrims have attended the Hajj over the past 25 years. Before heading to Mecca, many pilgrims visit the city of Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried and where he built his first mosque. The kingdom has spent billions of dollars of its vast oil revenues on security and safety measures, particularly in Mina, where some of the hajj’s deadliest incidents have occurred.

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