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Saturday

The Hajj, A Journey of Faith: Hajj Begins in Mecca

Aired March 11, 2000 - 2:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, considered by many Muslims as the single most important journey of their lifetime, is getting under way.

CNN's Riz Khan is in Mecca with an exclusive report on this year's Hajj.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIZ KHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may be a new millennium for much of the world, but the Muslim calendar is marking the 12th month of the year 1420. It's also the time when those who have received the calling make their way to Islam's holiest city, in the heart of the Saudi Arabian desert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never really can expect, imagine even, this kind of huge number of people coming over here. It is like beyond all the expectations.

KHAN: The conditions for performing the Hajj pilgrimage are clearly set out and include physical and financial ability, although for many it's taken a lifetime of saving. Above all, there has to be the genuine intent to perform Hajj. It truly is a journey of faith.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I felt so proud, I raised my head. I wanted all my children to be here, all the beloved ones and all the Islamic nation. I thank God for being here. It;s the house of God.

KHAN: The pilgrimage forms one of the five pillars of Islam, including clear belief in God, daily prayer, charitable donations and fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Pilgrims often start with a visit to the massive Prophet's Mosque in the city of Medina, nearly 450 kilometers north of Mecca. But the pilgrimage dates back before Islam's prophet Mohammed, to when the prophet Abraham and his family traveled through the desert. The ritual is based upon that time and has been followed since.

Essentially, it involves the pilgrims gathering in Mecca, stating their intent to perform Hajj, and, in the case of men, donning two simple white robes, making all equal. Women are expected to dress discretely. Following prayers at the Great Mosque, the crowd, more than two million worshippers, makes its way 10 kilometers east out of Mecca to the huge tent city of Mina. This is a resting spot on the road to the Plain of Arafat, which starts another 15 or so kilometers away.

The key to the Hajj is the stay in Arafat from sunrise to sunset. This is the time of reflection for the pilgrim, a time to be forgiven for all past sins. After sunset, the mass of people heads to Muzdalifah, halfway back to Mina, praying, resting and collecting pebbles on the way. These pebbles are thrown at three stone pillars near Mina, representing a rejection of Satan and his temptations.

This completed, the pilgrims head back to the Great Mosque in Mecca and circle the black shrouded structure in the center, known as the Ka'bah.

KHAN (on camera): For many, Hajj ends here, with the offering of a sacrifice or the ritualistic cutting of a lock of hair. Many men shave their heads completely. Then others go on to perform further rituals, and some just stay in Mecca for a few days to make the most of their journey of faith, their time in the house of God.

Riz Khan, CNN, Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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