Hajj world pilgrimage underway

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from around the world have begun the hajj rituals in and around Islam's holy city of Mecca. The annual Islamic hajj, which attracts around 3 million Muslims worldwide each year, began on Thursday.

Hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and is required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime. According to Islam, it traces the steps of prophets such as Muhammad, Abraham and Ishmael.

Hajj is a spiritual experience aimed at fostering closeness to God, the cleansing of sins and a sense of unity and equality among Muslims.

Eid al-Adha celebrations are coinciding with the pilgrimage. Eid al-Adha, also called Feast of the Sacrifice, is an important three-day religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet (Abraham) to sacrifice his young firstborn son (Ishmael) as an act of submission to God, and his son's acceptance of the sacrifice before God intervened to provide Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead.

Mecca is the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia.

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