At the end of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha, or "Feast of Sacrifice" - which also marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. One of the pillars of Islamic faith, the Hajj must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by any Muslim who has the ability to do so. This year, nearly 3 million Muslims made the Hajj, without major incident, and are now returning to their homes across the world. Muslims who stayed closer to home celebrated Eid al-Adha, commemorating the the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son to God. Traditional practices include ritual prayers, the sacrifice of animals (usually sheep), distribution of the meat amongst family, friends and the poor, and visiting with relatives.
Muslim pilgrims perform the "Tawaf" ritual around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque before leaving the holy Saudi city at the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage on December 10, 2008. The official Saudi News Agency (SPA) reported that the most recent statistics put the total number of pilgrims this year at more than 2.4 million, almost 1.73 million from abroad and 679,000 from within the kingdom, mostly foreign residents.
Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008.
Muslim pilgrims pray in a circle around the Kaaba inside the Grand mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Dec. 5, 2008.
A Saudi policeman monitors screens connected to cameras set up at all holy places in Mina near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008, during the annual Hajj.
Muslim pilgrims are seen inside a building where, for three days, they will cast stones at pillars symbolising Satan in Mina, Saudi Arabia on December 9, 2008. More than two million Muslim pilgrims performed a second round of stoning walls symbolising the devil on Tuesday, as Hajj pilgrimage rituals neared their end.
Thousands of Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolising stoning Satan, in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last and most dangerous rite of the annual hajj, near the Saudi holy city of Mina on December 8, 2008. To complete the ritual, a pilgrim must throw 21 pebbles at each of three 25-meter (82-foot) pillars and this year the faithful are being given pebbles in pre-packed bags to spare them the effort of searching for the stones.
A Saudi worker sews Islamic calligraphy in gold thread on a drape to cover the Kaaba at the Kiswa factory in the holy city of Mecca on November 29, 2008. The Kaaba cover is called Kiswa and is changed every year at the culmination of the annual Hajj or pilgrimage. The Kaaba, Islam's holiest site which stands in the centre of Mecca's Grand Mosque, contains the holy Black Stone which is believed to be the only piece remaining from an altar built by Abraham.
Thousands of tents housing Muslim pilgrims are crowded together in Mina near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008.
Muslim pilgrims shave their heads after casting stones at a pillar symbolizing Satan in Mina, Saudi Arabia on December 8, 2008.
An aerial view of Muslim pilgrims atop Mount Mercy outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia on December 7, 2008. From this hill, the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon nearly 1,400 years ago.