MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Here in Mecca, the holy site all the world's Muslims pray toward, the annual hajj pilgrimage began Tuesday with over 2 million faithful gathering to call out in Arabic: "Here I am, God, answering your call. Here I am."
Pilgrims, some of them weeping, reached out to touch to the Kaaba, the black cube-shaped structure in Mecca's Grand Mosque. They circled the Kaaba counterclockwise seven times, walking barefoot across the mosque's white tiles on a sunny day that saw temperatures reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
The pilgrimage to Mecca is required of all able-bodied adult Muslims and is one of the five main pillars of Islam. By performing the hajj, pilgrims believe its series of rituals and prayers will erase their past sins.
Those taking part shed much of their worldly belongings to be closer to God. Women forgo makeup and perfume for loose-fitting clothing and cover their heads, while men wear white terry cloth garments.
Here are a series of images by Associated Press photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy of pilgrims beginning the hajj in Saudi Arabia.
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