By Sarah El Deeb
Nearly 3 million Muslims are performing the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that began Sunday. Pilgrims climbed the rocky desert Mt. Arafat on Monday, chanting that they have come to answer God’s call.
The climb is one of the cornerstones of the pilgrimage, which is required from every able-bodied Muslim at least once in his life. Mt. Arafat is the site where Islam’s prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon, and Muslims believe on this day the doors of heaven open to answer prayers and grant forgiveness.
On Monday evening, the crowds head to the next stage of the pilgrimage in Muzdalifa, where they collect pebbles to use in the symbolic stoning of the devil the next day.
The first day of stoning also marks the start of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, when Muslims around the world slaughter sheep and cattle in remembrance of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son. The stoning lasts three days until the end of hajj on Sunday.