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Hajj Season Marks Spiritual Journey for Millions of Muslims

The annual Muslim season of Hajj is under way. Every Muslim who is financially capable is enjoined by the Koran, the holy Muslim scripture, to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at the annual season of Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. The culmination of the Hajj season is the "Id-Al Adha," the festival of sacrifice, which this year falls on Tuesday, February 11 and continues until Friday.

At the muezzin's call, Muslims around the world are to turn toward Mecca and prostrate themselves before God in humility to say their daily prayer.

Muslims believe Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca around 570 A.D. The Islamic faith teaches that Muhammad completed a tradition begun by Adam and followed by a succession of prophets that humanity may live in peace and in covenant with God.

Persecuted for his belief in one God, Muhammad left Mecca with a handful of followers and traveled 320 kilometers north to Median. The flight to Median in 622 A.D. is known as the Hegira. It marks the beginning of Muslim calendar

Muslims believe that eight years later Muhammad made a triumphant return to Mecca to witness the removal of idols from Ka'ba, the House of God.

Islamic tradition has it that Abraham built Ka'ba. A "black stone," known as Hajar-Al-Aswad, is in one corner. Muslims believe the stone was given by God to Abraham as a reward for his faithfulness. The stone represents the covenant between God and humans.

Abraham, first mentioned in Jewish scriptures, is known as "The Patriarch" by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. "Abraham," writes Bruce Feiler, a New York Times best-selling author, "remains a defining figure for half the world's believers. Muslims invoke him in their daily prayers, as do Jews. He appears repeatedly in the Christian liturgy."

For centuries Muslims have cast their eyes toward Ka'ba and looked forward to the day when they would be able to set foot in Mecca in today's Saudi Arabia.

Pilgrims to Mecca start their spiritual journey stripped of the trappings of class, power, and status. Men don the "Ihram," a two-piece seamless cloth cover. Women pilgrims wear a head to toe white garment that reveals only their faces and hands.

The pilgrims head toward Ka'ba chanting the "Talbiyah," a prayer to Allah:

Here we come o Allah, here we come! Here we come, no partner have you. Praise indeed, and blessings are yours, the kingdom too, no partner have you.

During the Hajj, pilgrims begin a ritual walk seven times counterclockwise around Ka'ba, and then make a trip between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. A trip to Minah takes place on the eighth day and the following morning the pilgrims make a trip to the plain of Arafat to perform the "standing" rituals, praying from noon until sunset near the site of Muhammad's farewell address.

At night, the pilgrims retreat to a place called "Muzdalifah". They return to Minah for three days, where they stone the three pillars representing Satan. A final walk around the Ka'ba and sacrifice of animals bring the Hajj to an end.