KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims perform the Tawaf ritual around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque as Muslims from all over the world perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims perform the Tawaf ritual around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque as Muslims from all over the world perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), right, took his oath of office in 1997 by swearing on a Koran.
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, is the first Muslim to serve in Congress. Controversy dogged him from the start, when he was sworn in on the Quran instead of the Bible.
Just this month, Ellison undertook a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudia Arabia. The journey, known as the Hajj, is the fifth pillar of the Islamic faith. Every Muslim — if financially and physically able — is encouraged to make the Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime.
This year, about 3 million adherents descended on Mecca for the atoning pilgrimage, which Muslims believe will erase all one's sins if embarked upon with sincere intentions. Hajj tradition calls for pilgrims to robe themselves in simple white sheets, sleeping in outdoor tents in a spirit of solidarity among fellow believers.
The undertaking is marked with a series of Islamic rites, performed over four days. The practice aims to recapture events in the lives of the prophet Abraham and his wife Hagar.
Four Rites of the Hajj:
Tawaf: The Kaaba is a cube-shaped building draped in black cloth, and serves as the focal point for many of the hajj rites. Muslims believe that a black stone, around which the Kaaba was built, fell from heaven to show Adam and Eve where to build the first altar to God. After finding the stone, Abraham ordered his son, Ismail, to build a new temple there on the grounds in the shape of the Kaaba. To observe Tawaf, pilgrims enter the Sacred Mosque and walk seven times, counter-clockwise, around the Kaaba, kissing the stone each time. Muslims worldwide pray in the direction of the Kaaba.
Arafat: Pilgrims meditate on Mount Arafat, close to the hill where the prophet Muhammad gave his final sermon. Pilgrims throw stones to symbolize stoning the devil- imitating Abraham's struggle with the devil to sacrifice his son.
Eid al-Adha: On this day, many Muslims sacrifice a lamb, a symbolic act reflective of God's mercy toward Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son's life in holy reverence. In honor of Abraham's obedience, God replaced Abraham's son with a lamb as a sacrificial offering.
Zamzam: It is required that pilgrims drink from the Zamzam well, where Muslims believe God caused water to appear in the desert so that Hagar could give water to her infant son.