Intimate Photos From Inside Mecca During the World's Largest Gathering

I was among the roughly two million Muslims who made the Hajj to Mecca last year. This is what I saw.

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Feb 29 2016, 3:55pm


Pilgrims waiting for the Maghreb (sunset) Prayer to commence

This past fall I had the opportunity to take my mother to Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the Holy pilgrimage of Hajj. The Hajj is one of the largest gatherings of people on earth with about two million people making the journey each year. It's one of the pillars of Islam and every Muslim is supposed to make this pilgrimage once in their lifetime if they are financially capable. I didn't want my photography to interfere with my spiritual journey, so I made sure that I took photos only after I performed the necessary religious duties. But taking pictures is also the way I see the world, so part of me wanted to photograph all that was around me.

What was incredibly beautiful to see was the love between the pilgrims regardless of colour or country. I met Muslims who journeyed from Burkina Faso, the Philippines, China, Italy, and Spain. I met so many people with so many different stories. The one that stood out the most to me was a couple in their 70s from India, Ahmed and Fatima, who told me they had been saving up for Hajj for the last 40 years. Ahmed told me it was his main worry in life, and after this, they can now die in peace.

All my life I've been praying toward Mecca, but I only ever saw the Kabah in pictures and videos. It's hard to explain how overwhelming it was to see the Kabah. I can't remember the last time I cried before this, but when I laid eyes on the Kabah for the first time, I was unable to stop.

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Pilgrims hold on to the doors of the Kabah.

The Tunnel that leads to the Jamarat where the stoning of the devil ritual takes place

Pilgrims exit the Jamarat.

A veiled woman asks for charity.

A pilgrim gets ready to throw a stone.

Pilgrims exit back to Mina, where they are all placed to live during the days of Hajj.

A pilgrim gets his hair cut—for the Hajj to be completed, the pilgrim must get his hair shaven or cut.

Although it’s illegal, pilgrims often cut the hair of one another, leaving the streets littered with hair.

An elderly man with a child on his back while he performs the Tawaf (circumambulation).

A guard ensures that pilgrims aren’t fighting when attempting to touch the “Black Stone.”

Pilgrims making Dua (Supplication) on the day of Arafat.

A pilgrim stands on one of the mountains.

A pilgrim makes Dua at sunset right before the day of Arafat ends. The new day begins after sunset in Islam.

Pilgrims sleep in Muzdalifah. One of the requirements of Hajj is to sleep in Muzdalifah there for one night.,

Birds fly beside the area where people wait for buses and cars to go to Jeddah and Medina.

Children wait in a car.

These pilgrims journeyed from Africa and said the toy guns would be a funny gift for their children.

A Saudi resident counts money.

This man asked me to take his portrait when he saw me holding my camera.

The mosques get so packed during Hajj season that many people have to pray outside.

Cats in the marketplace

Aziziyah, an area close to the Holy Mosque (Kabah) where many pilgrims stay before and after the Hajj is completed

An Indian woman reads the Qur’an as she performs the Tawaf. Many of the women who come for hajj come colour coordinated so that they don’t lose one another. Asian countries, such as India where this group is from, are known to wear very bright colours like purple and pink.

The Kabah

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