The pilgrims circle the Kaaba, considered by Muslims the house of God, inside the Grand mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (file photo)
The pilgrims circle the Kaaba, considered by Muslims the house of God, inside the Grand mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (file photo)

One of a Muslim's duties, according to the five pillars of Islam, is to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once during his or her lifetime. An estimated three million Muslims have traveled to Mecca to perform the Hajj. This year, 12,000 American Muslims are performing this particular pillar of Islam. 

Millions of Muslims, including thousands from the US, are making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj.  

American Muslims start their journey by chanting their commitment to the pilgrimage.

"We say, 'here I am Allah, here I am Allah, at your service.' So whatever Allah wants us to do, is what we want to do and we want to use this as a way to commit ourselves to Allah the rest of the year and the rest of our lives as well," Safi Khan, a Pakistani American, explains.

His wife Samira is a medical technician. She says, for her, pilgrimage is a way to move closer to God.  "It is very uplifting spiritually to see all the people from different backgrounds getting together focusing on one thing, that is to worship one God," she said.

During the Hajj, the pilgrims will circle the Kaaba, considered by Muslims the house of God. Muslims believe that God ordered the Prophet Abraham to build a house of worship on this site. 

Baqir Imrani is a high school teacher performing the Hajj for the fifth time.  This year he is praying for a universal cause.

"My prayer is: world peace for every one especially the Muslims, because they seem to suffer the most now," he said. "So hopefully we will wake up and take the right steps to bring peace in our own lands and contribute to bring the world peace."
The journey requires elaborate preparation as well as documents, a good amount of money and vaccinations.

Saudi authorities say that because the Hajj is a religious event, they are not banning anyone because of the H1N1 flu. But they have urged countries to follow precautions, such as age restrictions and vaccinations.

Adel El Farmawani is a travel agent for Muslim pilgrims in the U.S.  He says some pilgrims will stay in double rooms, others in rooms that accommodate four.  

"The average cost for the five star Hajj program is about eight thousand dollars and the four star program is about 5,000," he said.

Sheikh Irfan Kabeer Eldin is the group's religious leader. He instructs the pilgrims on how to perform the Hajj. "I give talks to tell them how to do each step of the Hajj," he said.

As they board the plane, the pilgrims continue to chant. When they approach their destination, the airport at Jeddah, the women will be wearing white dresses and head covers, while the men will be wearing two pieces of unsewn white cloth to reflect human equality and unity before God.

After the pilgrimage, American Muslims will join Muslims around the world in Eid Al Adha, the four day feast celebrating the end of the Hajj.