Mecca, Saudi Arabia – Two million Muslims from around the globe are converging on Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage, a religious duty and for some pilgrims the journey of a lifetime.
This year sees the return of pilgrims from Shiite Iran, regional rival to Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and comes with the Gulf mired in political crisis and Islamic State group jihadists squeezed in Iraq and Syria.
“I’m so excited because many people dream of coming to this place,” said 47-year-old Eni from Indonesia, her face framed in a sand-colored veil trimmed with lace.
“We feel more religious when we leave this place,” she said.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and it also provides the largest number of pilgrims for the hajj.
Eni’s compatriots throng Jeddah airport 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Mecca, as tens of thousands of pilgrims pass through the gateway to the hajj every day.
But Eni is almost oblivious to the hubbub that surrounds her as she studies her Koran in the oppressive heat, pearls of sweat beading her face.
“After my first pilgrimage I felt I wanted to come back to feel myself close to him,” she said of the Prophet Mohammed before returning her attention to Islam’s holy book.
The hajj is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in a lifetime if he or she has the means to do so.
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