More than two million Muslim pilgrims have gathered in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the initial rites of the hajj.
The Islamic pilgrimage takes the faithful along a path traversed by the Prophet Mohammed some 1,400 years ago.
The hajj in Islam is meant to unify Muslims, with pilgrims shedding displays of wealth and materialism.
Male pilgrims wearing simple terry cloth white garments and women in conservative dress and headscarves will circle the cube-shaped Kaaba on Friday.
The Kaaba building is at the centre of Islam’s most important building, the Grand Mosque of Mecca.
The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with conflicts ongoing in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
Muslim minorities around the world also face increased threats, including in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a sweeping curfew is in effect.
- Press Association