Throngs choked every alleyway and sidewalk in the city while a sea of white swirled ’round and ’round a cubical black building at its center. The city’s visitors came from every continent, and many will never return.

Amid the crowds of ecstatic worshippers were six Utahns who traveled halfway around the world to participate in the largest Islamic gathering on Earth.

Every year, about 2 million Muslims flock to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, for a pilgrimage called the hajj. The event takes place during the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar, this year landing between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2.

“It’s a great experience,” said Akram Shaaban, who went on the pilgrimage for the first time this December with his wife, Inji. “It’s hard to imagine (it), but when you’re done, you want to go again.”

The Shaabans, who live in Salt Lake City, traveled to the holy city with two other Utah couples after several years of planning.

Every financially and physically able Muslim must participate in the pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, at least once in life. Usama Baioumy, leader of the Muslim mosque in Orem, told a story to illustrate the hajj’s importance for Muslims.


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