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Photos: Faces of Muslim pilgrims from around the world at this year’s Hajj

By Nushmia Khan

Millions of Muslims from around the world gather each year in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for a once in a lifetime journey. This pilgrimage, called Hajj, started this year on September 10th, and I was one of the millions in attendance.

Hajj is a sort of obstacle course of the sacred, which consists of five days of different rituals and prayers, often very physical in nature, in various sites around Mecca. 

Before Hajj, I had never seen South Korean, Russian or Mauritanian Muslims. Regions that aren’t recognized as official countries also had pilgrims representing them—even Kurdistan had a delegation. Malcolm X described the sheer diversity of Hajj best in a letter he wrote after he made the pilgrimage himself: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood.”

Here’s a small sampling of the faces at this year’s Hajj. 

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Young pilgrims from China, fetching hot water for tea.
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A 76-year-old pilgrim from Turkmenistan. After I took her photo, she kissed me on the cheek three times.
Nushmia Khan/Quartz
A French convert to Islam. He works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lyons, France.
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A pilgrim from Sierra Leone (left), and a pilgrim from Guinea (right) were holding hands when I met them. The Sierra Leonean lost his brother to Ebola last year. Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia were allowed to send pilgrims to Hajj this year for the first time in two years, after a ban due to the Ebola outbreak was lifted.
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A Yemeni family in Medina.
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A pilgrim from Swat Valley, in Pakistan, where he works in construction. When asked about the US, he said, “I love America, because America has Muslims too.”
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Two pilgrims from Dili, Indonesia.
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Bangladeshi custodians at the Hajj campsite in Mina.
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An Egyptian family in Medina.
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A Muslim pilgrim from Chad. “I think taking photos is against the shari’ah [Islamic law], but I’ll make an exception right now,” he said.
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A Nigerian pilgrim in the Mina camps carrying goods to sell to other pilgrims.
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A pilgrim from Sana’a, Yemen, with a morning cup of Yemeni coffee.
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Two pilgrims from Lagos, Nigeria.
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Two pilgrims from Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
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An Omani pilgrim collecting stones for the Hajj stone-throwing Jamaraat ritual. “A lot of people misunderstand the Jamaraat,” he said. “It’s just one other symbolic way of showing our submission to God.”
Nushmia Khan/Quartz
An Indian pilgrim takes a selfie in front of the prophet Muhammad’s grave in Medina.