Muslims begin hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

By Aya Batrawy

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

An Egyptian mother of three, Nadia Abdel Aziz, appealed emotionally to God to make her children behave more kindly toward her. The 65-year-old widow said she was able to perform the hajj with the help of donations from a mosque in Cairo.

"O God! I want my kids to come and see me and be sensitive toward me, as I see with other families," she cried.

With her arms outstretched, she begged God for salvation, wiping a stream of tears from her face.

Saudi officials say about 3.4 million Muslims from all corners of the world are making the pilgrimage this year.

A sea of millions dressed in white, some waving their national flags, stretched for miles in the area of Mount Arafat, many chanting in unison, their prayers echoing.

Mount Arafat, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca, is a required stop for Muslims during the hajj.

As the sun and temperatures rose Thursday, tens of thousands of pilgrims began climbing the Mountain of Mercy.

By sunset, pilgrims head to Muzdalifa, where Muslims believe prophets before Muhammad once prayed. They collect pebbles there and then walk or drive to nearby Mina for a symbolic stoning of the devil that begins Friday and marks the start of Eid al-Adha, or feast of the sacrifice, when Muslims slaughter lambs to feed the hungry.

Hajj rules — based on centuries of interpretation of the Sunna, the traditions of Muhammad — are extremely elaborate. Pilgrims must all gather at certain sites at specific times. Some rites are repeated, others are partially repeated and some performed only once.

Many pilgrims being their journey in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina with a visit to Muhammad's mosque, where he is buried. They then head to Mecca and perform a set of pre-hajj rituals, including circling the Kaaba counterclockwise with their hearts tilted toward it — the same rituals that conclude the hajj for many.

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