Read the latest updates on the Hajj pilgrimage here
Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life are experiencing a different kind of equality in Saudi Arabia this week, as they gather in Mina's tented city to conduct their Hajj pilgrimage.
More than a million international and local pilgrims started their pilgrimage on Thursday in Makkah then moved in buses to Mina — eight kilometres to the east of Makkah, where they will stay for the next three days as part of the pilgrimage.
“Members of the royal family from different Arab countries are here, too, not just Cabinet ministers, corporate leaders and business tycoons. We all brush shoulders in the same confinements and sleep under the same roofs ... the powerful and people like me, who had to scrape enough to make it here,” Mohammed Rifai, 63, a Jordanian retiree based in Amman, told The National.
The Mina valley is an open space covered with more than 100,000 air-conditioned tents extending over 2.5 million square metres that can accommodate more than 2.6 million people.
Mina is known as the largest tent city in the world. Pilgrims must stay in Mina during Hajj and perform the Stoning of the Devil ritual at the Jamarat. The ritual is performed between sunrise and sunset in the final days of the Hajj.
Mina is also a place to put aside differences and interact on an equal footing.
“Mina is a place that can humble the powerful, who don’t normally mix with the likes of us back home. I will not mention names but this very rich guy who refused [to allow] me to marry his daughter six years ago, just because I earn a low income, came and shook my hand and we prayed together side by side here at Mina,” said Rashed Al Sabti, 33, a filing clerk at the UAE's Ministry of Health.
A computer software developer from the Indian city of Delhi said Mina is the only place one can breathe under the same roof with people who usually "look down at you back home".
“I am considered low caste by my fellow Indians back home because our family in the past served the maharajas, who were the rulers of India. But here in Mina, we walk side by side, sleep under the same tents and breathe the same air," Sameer Rahman, 36, told The National.
"I see the families of higher caste Indians from my home town...being grouped together with us.”
Pilgrims in Mina share communal areas, toilets and bathrooms. They have access to freezers and fridges at receptions that serve cold water, snacks and ice-cold refreshments free of charge throughout their stay.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for every Muslim, provided they are able to travel to Makkah and perform it.
This Friday, pilgrims will leave Mina and travel to Mount Arafat, five kilometres from Makkah, where the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have delivered his last sermon.
Pilgrims spend the day praying at Arafat until sunset, then walk the seven kilometres to the third holy site, Muzdalifah. There, they perform the sunset and night prayers and spend the night worshipping under the open sky.