Saudi Arabia: Hajj pilgrimage to start Thursday October 25, 2012

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia has announced that the Islamic hajj pilgrimage, which attracts around 3 million Muslims worldwide each year, will begin on Thursday, Oct. 25.

The kingdom’s High Court, comprised of religious scholars who serve as judges, announced Tuesday that Eid al-Adha celebrations coinciding with the pilgrimage will start on Oct. 26.

Hajj is among the five pillars of Islam and is required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.

Already some 1.4 million people from 160 countries have arrived in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for hajj, which according to Islam 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.