More than 2 million Muslims from around the world are spending Wednesday in prayer near Mecca in Saudi Arabia as the most important day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage gets underway, CNN reports. At sunrise, pilgrims began traveling from Mina to the Plain of Arafat, spending an emotional day in reflection and repentance to symbolize a cleansing of sins and a spiritual rebirth.
The Hajj is one of the most celebrated events in the Islamic calendar and one of the world’s largest public gatherings. For most Muslims, it is the spiritual climax of their lives, with many saving for decades to be able to make the journey. Known as the fifth pillar of Islam, the Hajj is an obligation upon every Muslim who has the financial means and the physical ability to perform it.
Thursday marks the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son on divine orders. The pilgrimage, conducted over five days, includes detailed rituals such as wearing a special white garment that symbolizes human equality and unity before God; a circular procession around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine; and the symbolic stoning of evil.