In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, more than two million Muslims began the annual hajj on Friday.
The hajj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, is one of Islam’s five pillars (core beliefs) and must be undertaken by all Muslims, who have the ability to do so, at least once in their lives.
It consists of a series of religious ceremonies which are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
In total some 2.5 million faithful, the majority from abroad, will undertake the pilgrimage this year, according to local media.
Mecca, built in a desert valley, is home to the Kaaba, a cube structure that is the focal point of Islam and is draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth.
Muslims around the world pray towards the Kaaba, which is located in the Grand Mosque, and pilgrims walk around it seven times.
This year's hajj is especially memorable, as two hundred survivors and relatives of victims of March’s massacres at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, are undertaking the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to “pray for the martyrs”.
Families of victims of the March 2019 attack on mosques in New Zealand, arrive at Jeddah airport in Saudi Arabia on August 2.
“I want the world to know who Atta Elayyan was,” said 27-year-old Farah Talal, dressed in a green djellaba robe and an elegant white scarf during her visit to Islam’s holiest city.
Her husband Atta was among 51 people killed when a white supremacist attacked worshippers during Friday prayers in the quiet New Zealand town, sparking global revulsion.
“He was a wonderful person, generous, I want to pay tribute to him,” murmured the young woman of Jordanian-origin who, along with 200 others affected by the massacre, was invited to the hajj by Saudi’s King Salman.
Authorities have said they hope to “ease their suffering” as part of “the kingdom’s efforts in response to terrorism”
The survivors and relatives of victims were given a heroes’ welcome as they arrived on August 2.
27-year-old Farah Talal is pictured at a hotel in Mecca. She is there to pay tribute to her husband, who was killed in the terror attack.
“He gave us the strength to carry on every day. He is a martyr, just like all the other victims of the carnage,” said Talal of her husband in a vast hotel complex reserved for guests of the Saudi royal family.
Amir Mohamed Khan, 14, lost his father Mohammed Imran Khan, a 47-year-old restaurateur originally from India, on March 15 in New Zealand’s worst mass killing in modern times.
“I was in school on March 15,” said Khan, his green eyes glistening as he wore a traditional salwar kameez. “I was very shocked, I didn’t have any reactions... I couldn’t believe it... I loved him so much.
“It will be very hard without him, but I’m thankful to be in Mecca today. I’m doing hajj for my father, to pray for him.”