Two weeks later, Samia Ara still dreams about Mecca at night.

She sees a dark brown hill rendered white at twilight by thousands of cloaked pilgrims, arms stretched heavenward.

“It was amazing,” said the Pleasanton engineer. “You’ve faced this way your whole life and here it is. You get very emotional.”

She journeyed to Mecca, the geographic and spiritual center of Islam, which her faith requires her to visit at least once in a lifetime.

Wherever they are in the world, faithful believers pray in the direction of the holy city every day. The Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca and several other holy sites, is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.

Over five days, from Dec. 28 to Jan. 1, the pilgrims move from Minna, where the murmured prayers of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims fill the valley, to Arafat, where Adam and Eve are believed to have settled after they fled Eden. They drink water from a wellspring celebrated in the Old Testament.

Because the Muslim calendar is shorter than the western calendar, the dates of the Hajj shift through the years. This year, it coincided with Christmas holidays, freeing many more people to go. About 2.5 million made the journey, according to Islamic News Agency.

Although a mahram, or male relative, must accompany each woman, men and women both perform the various acts of faith, such as circling the Ka’bah, the sacred black cube, seven times. They also pray side by side in the grand mosque.


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