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Hajj Begins In Saudi Arabia

18 January 2005 -- Muslims from all over the world started the annual pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca today to perform one of Islam's rituals, which is mandatory for every Muslim who can afford it.

Authorities are expecting up to 3 million Muslims to arrive in the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad.

Pilgrims began streaming from Mecca last night into the tent city of Mina in preparation for a day of prayer and meditation.

They will continue their journey tomorrow to Mount Arafat for the zenith of the rituals.

After dawn tomorrow, the pilgrims will move toward Arafat to symbolize the Final Day of Judgment. They will return to Mina where they will take part in the three-day stoning of the three pillars representing the devil.

Once back in Mina, pilgrims will sacrifice animals to mark the beginning of one of Islam's most important holidays: Eid Al-Adha.

(compiled from service and wire reports)