MASON - The annual hajj in Saudi Arabia unfolded this year against the backdrop of war in Iraq and increasing militancy among Islamic extremist groups.
Then it was marred by a building collapse and a stampede that killed more than 360.
Yet Ashraf Sayani of Mason said he never felt so safe or so at peace with God.
Sayani embarked earlier this month on the religious journey of a lifetime - the pilgrimage to Mecca. He and 10 of his relatives, including his wife and two small children, joined millions of Muslims worldwide for the trip.
Every adult Muslim who is financially and physically able is obligated under the Quran, the holy Muslim scripture, to make the trip during hajj at least once in his or her lifetime.
The five-day event is the essence of a Muslim's personal relationship with God, Sayani said. The focus is on repentance, forgiveness and mercy.
Despite being close to a stampede that killed 363 other worshippers, Sayani spent his days absorbed in prayer and contemplation. . .
To prevent future tragedies, the site is being overhauled with more platforms, vehicle tunnels and a dozen entrances and exits, said Karen Dabdoub, director of the Ohio Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Blue Ash.
The site eventually is expected to accommodate up to 5 million pilgrims, she said.