The Hajj is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
The faithful began the annual five-day ritual Friday by walking counterclockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure at the center of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, which Muslims believe is the spot where the Prophet Abraham built his first temple.
Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during their five daily prayers.
During the Hajj, devoted Muslims perform a series of religious rituals. In addition to walking around the Kaaba, they also drink the alkaline water from the Well of Zamzam, believed to have healing qualities. They also perform a symbolic stoning of the devil.
The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so are expected to take part in the Hajj at least once in their lifetimes.
This year 200 survivors and relatives of the victims of the March mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 people are attending as guests of the king of Saudi Arabia.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz is paying for the group’s airfare and accommodations. The total bill is expected to be more than $1 million.
Abfulrahman Al Suhaibani, the Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, told the Associated Press that the king was shocked by the shootings carried out by an Australian white supremacist.
Other white supremacists have been inspired by the New Zealand shootings, most recently in an attack at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were shot dead.