The Hajj: Symbol of Muslim unity, equality and spiritual rejuvenation
Millions of Muslims from across the world converge on Islam's holiest city of Mecca and nearby sites in Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj is a mandatory duty for all Muslims to make at least once in their lifetime if they have the financial and physical means to do so.
Men don seamless white clothes and women wear loose garments and must refrain from wearing make-up and jewellery. They perform the same rituals in a demonstration of religious unity, equality and pursuit of spiritual renewal.
Muslims perform the Hajj following in the footsteps of the prophet Muhammad, but the pilgrimage to Mecca can be traced back thousands of years to the time of the prophet Ibrahim, known as Abraham in the Old Testament.
According to Islam's holy book, the Koran, Ibrahim and his son Ishmael built the Kaaba, or House of God, in Mecca as a house of monotheistic worship.
Muslims face the Kaaba during their daily prayers.
The hajj: Pilgrims in their millions
Millions of devout Muslims are again conducting the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and conflicts still flare in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Muslim minorities also face increased threats, including in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a sweeping curfew is in effect. By Janina Semenova
Religious joy: an experience that must be captured and recorded. For many Muslims the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the crowning moment of their faith. It is the religious duty of every Muslim to carry out the hajj – a journey that lasts several days – at least once in their lives, providing the individual is in good health and can afford to do it. Saudi Arabia is responsible for organising the pilgrimage
Anti-clockwise: the final destination on the pilgrimage is the holy city of Mecca. All worshippers visit the Grand Mosque in the Saudi Arabian city. In the inner courtyard of the mosque is the Kaaba, the "House of God", in the form of a black cube. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times, always in an anti-clockwise direction
Buried under rubble: around two million people travel to Mecca every year. The pilgrimage has been frequently overshadowed by misfortune – for example, on 15 September 2015. Just as the hajj was about to begin, a storm caused a crane to collapse onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing more than 100 people
Trampled to death: the next tragedy occurred nearly two weeks later, on 24 September 2015. Thousands of pilgrims were trampled to death in a mass panic in the town of Mina near Mecca. This is where pilgrims are supposed to conduct the ritual stoning of the devil
Travel ban for Muslims from Iran: it is thought that some 469 Iranians were among the dead. Following the incident, Iranians demonstrated outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. The Iranian government accused Saudi Arabia of negligence. This further exacerbated the already tense relationship between the two nations. Iran has banned its citizens from making the hajj this year
High-tech support: in response to the fatal accidents, Saudi Arabia has tightened security procedures. These include the introduction of electronic wristbands to identify each individual worshipper in the crowd. The wristbands will store personal data including health details and location, as well as inform pilgrims about prayer times
Praying on the mountain: one of the most important stations on the pilgrimage is the walk on Mount Arafat. It is here that the faithful supplicate to Allah to forgive their sins. According to Islamic tradition, this is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Another high point of the hajj is the Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid, celebrated by Muslims all over the world, regardless of whether they are taking part in the pilgrimage
Following arrival in Mecca, each pilgrim walks seven times in a counter clockwise direction around the black, cube-shaped Kaaba and runs back and forth between two historical hills, parts of which are still preserved inside the Grand Mosque that houses the Kaaba.
The Hajj peaks with the pilgrims thronging Mount Arafat, around 20 kilometres east of Mecca. The granite hill is the place where Mohammed delivered his last sermon around 14 centuries ago. There, the pilgrims chant in supplication to God to forgive their sins.
The pilgrims stay in Arafat until sunset, when they head to the nearby plain area of Muzdalifah where they stay overnight.
In Muzdalifah, the faithful collect pebbles to use for a symbolic stoning of the devil on the following day in the desert valley of Mina, just outside Mecca. They cast pebbles at pillars in a rite commemorating Ibrahim's reaction when the devil tried to tempt him into disobeying God.
Upon finishing the stone-throwing ritual on the first day of the Eid ul-Adha festival, which falls on Tuesday this year, male pilgrims traditionally change out of their robes, shave their heads and slaughter a sacrificial animal. Women cut a lock of their hair.
Male and female pilgrims then go to Mecca again to circumambulate the Kaaba. Later in the day, they return to Mina to stay overnight and throw stones for two more days. The pilgrimage takes place from the eighth to the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. (dpa)