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Saudi Arabia is preparing to host the annual hajj pilgrimage beginning Sunday

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia is preparing to host the annual hajj pilgrimage beginning Sunday, as over 2 million Muslim faithful are ready to take part in the ultraconservative kingdom.

The pilgrimage represents one of the five pillars of Islam and is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life. In recent weeks, the faithful have arrived in Mecca from across the world, all chanting “Labayk Allahuma Labayk,” or “Here I am, God, answering your call. Here I am.”

The hajj offers pilgrims an opportunity to feel closer to God amid the Muslim world’s many challenges, including the threat of extremists in the Mideast after the Islamic State group was beaten back in Iraq and Syria and the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

“My feeling is indescribable to perform the hajj,” said Imad Abdel-Raheem, an Egyptian pilgrim. “I also want to pray for all Muslim countries, for them to live free in all places, in Palestine and in Burma, in all places, in Afghanistan and in India.”

Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the spokesman of the Saudi Interior Ministry, told journalists Saturday that over 2 million Muslims from abroad and inside the kingdom would be taking part in this year’s hajj.

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