MECCA, Saudi Arabia — On foot and on the roofs of overflowing buses, Muslims poured into the holy city of Mecca for a final day of the hajj on Wednesday, many of them saying they felt reborn and cleansed of sin as they completed the annual pilgrimage.
Around midday, the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest shrine, was packed with pilgrims performing the Tawaf al-Widaa, or the "farewell circling" of the Kaaba _ walking seven times around the cubical structure while praying and reading the Quran, Islam's holy book.
Many of the nearly 3 million pilgrims came by bus or on foot from the nearby plain of Mina, where they had completed the ritual known as the stoning of the devil earlier in the day. Others sat on mats along the three-mile route, reciting passages from the Quran while waiting for the crowds to ease.
Some said they felt their journey of faith, which began last week, had washed away their sins.
"I feel I'm reborn," said Iranian pilgrim Parviz Karimi. "Words cannot tell how I am feeling now. I feel I'm purified and that God has forgiven all my sins."
In prayers before leaving Mecca for home, pilgrims ask God to accept their pilgrimage, a once in a lifetime requirement for every able-bodied Muslim who can financially afford the trip.
Mecca's streets were filled Wednesday with pilgrims buying clothes, electronic equipment and plastic bottles to fill up with Mecca's holy water that is later given to friends and relatives back home as gifts.
Some pilgrims telephoned loved ones to give them the news they'd completed the pilgrimage's rituals.
The hajj began last week with the circling of the Kaaba, which Muslims around the world face during their five daily prayers. Pilgrims then went to nearby Mount Arafat, where Islam's seventh-century prophet, Muhammad, gave his last sermon in A.D. 632. Then, many spent two or three days at the stoning ritual in Mina.
The Kaaba, an ancient structure in Mecca's Grand Mosque, is Islam's holiest site, believed by Muslims to have first been built by Adam, then again later by Abraham.
According to Islamic teachings, the hajj is a spiritual journey that cleanses the soul.
"I feel more responsibility now after completing the hajj. God has washed away all my sins and I don't want to commit any more sins in the future. And that is a grave responsibility for the rest of my life," said Malaysian pilgrim Haji Abu Hassan Morad.
On the last day of the hajj, pilgrims also walk between the hills of Safa and Marwa inside the Grand Mosque, re-enacting the search by Abraham's wife, Hagar, for water for her infant son, Ishmael, in the desert. After her seventh run, a spring known as Zamzam emerged miraculously under Ishmael's feet.
The annual pilgrimage has so far been incident-free, unlike in previous years when the event was marred by fires and stampedes.
Saudi authorities set around 1,500 cameras to monitor the crowd at holy sites. Some 500 cameras watch pilgrims in the Grand Mosque as a way to manage the crowd and avoid congestion that may lead to stampedes.