Turn to the north and wish Canadians a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’

Shopping for pumpkins at an open market in Ottawa. (Photo by Lars Plougmann, released via Wikimedia Commons.)

Shopping for pumpkins at an open market in Ottawa. (Photo by Lars Plougmann, released via Wikimedia Commons.)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13:  Since 1957, the second Monday in October has been recognized by all Canadian faiths as Thanksgiving Day; the idea of a harvest celebration, however, is centuries old. First Nations of Canada—along with the Native Americans of the Americas—have held festivals of dancing, rituals and harvest activities for centuries.

If you’re planning a harvest-themed dinner with family and friends, you’ll want to check out our own FeedTheSpirit column. This week, Isaac DeLamatre the head of kitchens at Antioch College writes about beets and shares a delicious recipe. Or click here to read a whole series of FeedTheSpirit columns.

In Canada, there are many perspectives on Thanksgiving. CBC News recently published an intriguing interview with a family of blended cultures that now calls its harvest holiday: “You’re Welcome Weekend.”

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Columbus Day: West Coast is heart of pro and anti celebrations

Columbus Day parade in San Francisco

This float appeared in an earlier Columbus Day Italian Heritage Parade in San Francisco’s North Beach. The photo was offered for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13: All year long, celebrations across the United States reflect the colorful facets of America’s growing cultural diversity. But few holidays expose the friction in U.S. history as much as Columbus Day, which celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what is now called the Americas in 1492.

For more than a century, the holiday has been championed by Italian-Americans as showcasing their many contributions to the U.S. But some regions of the country now decline to celebrate this national observance, questioning whether Columbus’s arrival is something Native people should celebrate.

Proud Italian-American communities on the East Coast host parades, parties and other events—but San Francisco claims to host the nation’s oldest and biggest Columbus-related bash. In fact, the celebration started several days ago around the Bay Area. (Check out the group’s website.)

The San Francisco-based group claims that in 1869: “San Francisco’s first Columbus Day Celebration marked the first time in America that Italian-Americans gathered and held a parade to honor the accomplishments of Italians, as well as the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus.”

That first parade “took place in San Francisco’s downtown featuring the bands and marching units of Italian fraternal organizations, including the Garibaldi Guard, Swiss Guards and Lafayette Guards. Four floats were showcased: the first hosted the statue of Christopher Columbus, the second featured two girls representing Isabella of Spain and America, the third depicted the Santa Maria with a sailor dressed as Christopher Columbus; and the fourth honored Italian gardeners featuring their agricultural achievements.”

In nearby Berkeley, California, an alternative celebration, Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day took off in the 1990s. Wikipedia reports a more extensive history of this anti-Columbus Day movement.

This year, that movement is spreading. Headlines nationwide report on a unanimous vote of Seattle’s city council to rename the federal holiday Indigenous People’s Day in their city. National Public Radio reported on the change:

The name change comes after activists pushed for a day to honor indigenous people instead of Christopher Columbus, the most recognizable figure linked to European contact with the Americas. “This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant told the Seattle Times. … Seattle isn’t the first place to give the holiday a makeover. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis City Council also renamed Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. South Dakota celebrates Native American Day in “remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state.”

The Seattle Times reports that, while Native American groups are cheering the change, Italian-American groups are disappointed. The Times story includes this item:

In the council chambers Monday, a half-dozen people held Italian flags to demonstrate their support for Columbus Day. Several said they weren’t against an Indigenous Peoples’ Day but felt slighted by the council’s decision to honor Native Americans on the same date as an existing holiday. “Italian Americans are deeply offended,” said Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America and the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest. “By this resolution you say to all Italian Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah: Jews dwell in huts, restart Torah

You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.

Leviticus 23:42

Burlap in background, draped in vines of sunflowers with pumpkins, haystacks in front and Sukka sign to the right

Photo by Oliver Hammond, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of Sukkot, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes back author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other stories:




No festival in the Jewish calendar requires more gear than this seven-eight-nine-day shackfest. We need an etrog (which looks like a lumpy lemon); the romantic lore praising the fragrance and beauty of this fruit, and the religious obligation to enjoy this festival, raise the price of an etrog to heavenly heights. We also need palm, myrtle and willow branches. Gathering these four types of plants is the easy part. Daily synagogue services include processions with our plants.

At home, parents suddenly become d-i-yers, and ramshackle huts roofed with greenery sprout in the back yard or on the patio. It’s a “sukkah” (shelter) designed as a substitute for our regular house, a place to take meals and relax on the holiday; in warmer climes the family can camp overnight. Detailed rules govern the shacks, huts or “tabernacles,” but there’s still freedom for creativity in size, shape and materials.

Temporary dwellings remind us of our 40-year trek through the wilderness, protected and sustained by our compassionate God. In ancient times, harvest workers slept outside by their work, as we read in the Book of Ruth (3:6-15). Our huts remind us that our own existence is fragile; that the protections we build for ourselves can be swept away in a storm; and that too many people in our society lack a home of their own. Gazing at stars through chinks in the roof promotes awe and humility, for we are but momentary specks in a universe of untold extent in time and space.


The first part of the holiday is “Sukkot,” shelters, and lasts for seven days. On the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, “the concluding eighth day” (Num 29:35), we no longer need our four types of plants or our temporary shelter.

The ninth day is the final day of our festival season. It’s called Simchat Torah, a party to celebrate the Five Books of Moses, our manual for effective living. We finish the annual cycle of readings and begin anew, reading the final portion of Deuteronomy and then the first chapters of Genesis, accompanied by all the “disorder, laughing, sporting, and … confusion” that disturbed the famous diarist Samuel Pepys when he visited a London synagogue on October 14 1663. Dancing in the synagogue sometimes spills on to the streets, as we share our joy with the community in which we live.



Dark spice cake with pomegranate seeds on top, on white plate and platter, one piece cut out of cake

Pomegranates are a common ingredient in Sukkot recipes. Photo by Jamieanne, courtesy of Flickr

As Joe Lewis has described, most Jewish families try to take part in the construction of a sukkah—a temporary booth, or structure—in honor of Sukkot, spending as much time as possible inside the dwelling during the festival. The commandment to “dwell” in the sukkah can mean simply eating meals inside of it or fully residing. (Wikipedia has details.)

Each day of Sukkot, a waving ceremony is performed with the four species, or the lulav and etrog. An etrog—a citrus fruit native to Israel—is placed in one hand, while the other hand contains a bound bundle (lulav) of one palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches. A blessing is recited and the species are waved in all directions, to symbolize that G_d is everywhere. The four species are also transported to the synagogue, where they are held, waved and beaten against the floor, during religious services. The four species are also held while forming processions around the bimah (pedestal where the Torah is read), in synagogue.


Immediately following Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, on which Jews leave their sukkah and dine inside the home. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is combined with Simchat Torah; in the diaspora, Simchat Torah falls on the day immediately following Shemini Atzeret. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)


On Simchat Torah, literally, “Rejoicing in the Torah,” the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is complete. On Simchat Torah, the final Torah portion is read and, in a cyclical manner, the first chapter of Genesis is then immediately read. The completion of the cycle is met with great celebration, singing, dancing and the carrying of Torah scrolls.


For many Jews, Sukkot arrives just in time. After the solemn experience of Yom Kippur, the happy gathering of family and friends is a welcome event. Read more about the unity of Sukkot and more from the Jerusalem Post.

A $50,000 penthouse sukkah? Rates are high for a luxury Sukkot at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, but the price tag for the 12 private sukkahs comes with everything needed for a four-star holiday: three cooked meals per day for four people for eight days; a personally designed sukkah and plenty of room for entertaining guests. (Read more in the JTA.) For those wishing to spend a little less, the Inbal constructs two enormous sukkahs that can hold up to 600 guests at mealtime.


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Categories: Jewish

Eid al-Adha: Muslims recall Ibrahim’s sacrifice in communal joy

Cow in front, sheep in back, on pasture with mountains in background

In commemoration of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael, Muslims slaughter a halal domestic animal for Eid al-Adha. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4: As the Hajj continues for 3 million pilgrims in Mecca, Muslims worldwide express joyful appreciation for Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice. Today is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. (Dates and spellings vary.) Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca.

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. Adherents begin Eid al-Adha by dressing in their finest clothing, traveling to a mosque or field, and offering Eid prayers in congregation. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the sermon, it is Islamic custom to exchange joyful greetings, present gifts to children and visit with family and friends. The events of Eid al-Adha last between one and four days, although in some regions, festivities may carry on longer. This year, it has been announced that the United Arab Emirates financial markets will halt trading on Friday, October 3 and resume on Tuesday, October 7, in commemoration of the Eid al-Adha holidays.

The custom of slaying a halal domestic animal for Eid al-Adha is that in doing so, the meat may be divided into three parts: one-third for the family, one-third to be shared with friends and neighbors and another one-third for the poor. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy. Today, more than 100 million animals are slain during Eid al-Adha for this purpose.

Eid al-Adha activities for kids (plus a great party idea): Young children may not easily grasp the magnitude of Abraham’s sacrifice, but they can begin understanding the basic concepts of Hajj and Eid al-Adha with these recipe and craft ideas, from Pinterest. Feeling more motivated? Try this sheep-themed Eid party, posted at My Halal Kitchen.

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Categories: Muslim

OCTOBER: Bullying prevention, breast cancer, arts & humanities and clergy

OCTOBER 2014—The warmth of Indian summer begins to wane in October, bringing the smell of autumn and the vibrancy of fall colors. This month, wear pink with pride in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and be sure to thank leaders in your congregation: It’s National Clergy Appreciation Month. Stop bullying in its tracks, because October is National Bullying Prevention Month. October is also LGBT History Month. Visit an art museum or attend a live performance in honor of October being National Arts & Humanities Month, and learn more about Polish and Filipino Americans, because both are honored this month. As the nights get chillier, rent a movie and spend a night at home with a buttery, poppin’ favorite: it’s Popcorn Month (and, for those of you with a sweet tooth, it’s Cookie Month, too).

Check out this month’s highlights:


Bullying Is No Laughing Matter headlines

DURING THIS SPECIAL MONTH: ReadTheSpirit Books will donate $1 for every copy of “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” to the PACER anti-bullying programs. If you’ve been hesitating, now is a perfect time to order a copy. (Just click on this cover to visit the bookstore.) And remember: Year-end holidays are coming. This is a great gift for the comics-lover on your list.

Founded in 2006 by PACER‘s National Bullying Prevention Center, October is the month when communities nationwide focus efforts to educate and raise awareness about this challenge for so many school-age children and their families. PACER reaches out to communities through partnerships with education-based organizations such as National PTA, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association to provide schools, parents and students with resources to respond to bullying behavior and to begin the shift of societal acceptance of bullying.

PACER has declared that this year’s theme for National Bullying Prevention Month is: The End of Bullying Begins with Me!


Here’s how to “team up” and multiply your own effort to end bullying—Our ReadTheSpirit publishing house will donate $1 to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center for each copy of the new comic book, Bullying Is No Laughing Matter that is sold during the month of October.

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter is a full-color paperback comic book that is a historic “team up” of many cartoon favorites. Three dozen nationally distributed comic strips are united in Bullying Is No Laughing Matter, many of them specifically addressing the issue of bullying for the very first time in this publication. The fact that dozens of top comic artists have collaborated in this unique collection is news! The format of this comic book is news as well. It’s a “flip book” with two covers and two pathways through these comic adventures. Author Kurt J. Kolka is an award-winning journalist. He also is the creator of the comic super hero The Cardinal, a costumed crime-fighter who cares about the lives in his small town as much as Kurt and his wife Diane care about their community. Together, Kurt and Diane lead anti-bullying programs for adults and kids.

Bullying has become a national epidemic! This new book is part of the cure.

Buy a copy of the book today—and, for each book sold, the publishing house will drop $1 into the pot to help PACER’s efforts. PlusCheck out our new website that offers, each week, a free activity/discussion guide for adults to use with kids.


With more than 1 million full-time Christian ministry workers and 350,000 senior pastors currently in the United States, it’s time to thank the folks that inspire your congregation: October is Clergy Appreciation Month. Inaugurated by nonprofit group Under His Wing in 1992, Clergy Appreciation Month encourages congregation members to express gratitude to their pastors and clergy leaders and to find ways to help, whether by offering volunteer yard work or bringing lunch. A rising demand brought Hallmark to begin printing National Clergy Day cards in 2001, and the cause currently has a Facebook page, too.


Pink ribbon for breast cancer awarenessFrom the White House in Washington, D.C. to skyscrapers in Tokyo, world buildings are illuminated in pink this month, in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of a chemical industry organization, NBCAM promotes mammography, breast cancer prevention and awareness of the signs of breast cancer. Today, the pink ribbon—gaining popularity since the Susan G. Komen Foundation began handing out pink ribbons at its race in 1991—has gained international status, and “pink” merchandise can be found in countless stores. October brings fundraising walks, runs and more; since 1983, participant count in Race for the Cure has skyrocketed from 800 to well over 1 million. NationalBreastCancer.org encourages an Early Detection Plan; offers educational and supportive resources for women with breast cancer; and raises funds for women who can’t afford a mammogram.


This month, Americans are urged to explore new facets of the arts and humanities—so get out there and try a new museum, live show or gallery viewing! The year was 1993 when National Arts & Humanities Month was established, with four goals in mind: to create a national, state and local focus on the arts and humanities through media; to encourage the participation of individuals, arts and humanities and other organizations worldwide; to provide an opportunity for federal, state and local businesses, government and civic leaders to declare their support for the arts and humanities; and to establish a highly visible vehicle for raising awareness about the arts and humanities. Looking for ideas to celebrate? Host or attend a National Arts & Humanities Event in your community, with more information here. Hosting resources are available here, and access the National ArtsMeet Calendar here. Raise awareness by sending a proclamation to your local elected officials (a sample proclamation link is on this page), or participate in the National Arts & Humanities Show Your Art Instagram campaign.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Yom Kippur: Millions of Jews mark the Day of Atonement

Street view of city with roads showing no cars, only a few cyclers, and skyscrapers in the background

The streets of Tel Aviv are almost empty on Yom Kippur, as Jews spend most of the morning and evening in synagogue. Photo by brunswicksquare, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of Yom Kippur, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes back author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other stories:



SUNSET FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3: Although it’s a solemn day, Yom Kippur is really a celebration, the anniversary of God forgiving the Jewish people for worshiping a golden calf. By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day.

The Torah prescribes self-denial for this day, most obviously fasting: Adults who are medically able will abstain from food and drink for about 25 hours, from sundown to sundown.

In the days of the Temple, there was an elaborate sacrificial ceremony during which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies; confess his sins and those of his family and the whole community; and utter God’s four-letter name. The sacrificial animals included two goats; one was sacrificed and the other released (the original “scapegoat,”) to bear the community’s sins into the wilds. The mystery of the purpose and efficacy of this sacrifice prompt us to study its details in our prayer service. Without the Temple, all of this is denied us, and we ache with sorrow for our loss and lovingly recall the ancient ritual.

Relying on an interpretation of Hosea 14:2 that prayer replaces the sacrificial system, our liturgy is extensive and includes soaring poetry and abject confession. Our prayers take up most of the day.

We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.



The High Holidays draw to a close tonight, as Jews embark on a 25-hour fast accompanied by prayers that will draw them close to God: it is Yom Kippur, known also as the Day of Atonement. Arguably the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur beckons even the most nonobservant Jews to the synagogue for earnest prayer and in hopes of forgiveness.

To understand more about this fasting—which is different than most traditional “fasts” in Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions—read this week’s FeedTheSpirit column by Bobbie Lewis. (She’s Joe Lewis’s wife and a popular writer on many topics, including food.)

For families: Yom Kippur offers a unique opportunity for children to see their parents engaged in serious observance of their religious traditions, and the days leading up to the holiday allow families to examine and discuss their relationships. Families might want to write a themed letter each year; break fast together on Yom Kippur; and engage young members in the Yizkor memorial service, for parents who have passed away. Get more ideas here.

A different menu for Yom Kippur: Interested in what to eat to break the Yom Kippur fast in addition to Bobbie’s suggestions in FeedTheSpirit this week? You might also want to check out this article from the Washington Post, which examines traditions from Sephardic Jews—who dine on warm, sweet drinks, soups and a later meal of heavier curries and meats—to Indian Jews, who adapt dishes from the pies of Diwali.

Sports on Yom Kippur? Is one allowed to watch televised sports during the time of “afternoon nap” on Yom Kippur? This article contemplates that question.

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Categories: Jewish

Hajj 2014: Muslims travel to Mecca for ancient journey

Millions of people around big black box inside mosque building

Pilgrims circle the Kaaba during Hajj 2012. Photo by Adeel Anwer, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2: Millions of Muslim pilgrims have been flowing into Mecca in recent weeks, by every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe: it’s Hajj 2014, the annual Islamic pilgrimage that is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

Note: Dates can vary depending on moon sightings.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, Hajj is a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime (given that it is manageable physically, mentally and financially); despite the term ‘religious duty’, Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Islamic prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj, in the seventh century. (Learn more, and get news updates, from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.) The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah (God).


Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, alone in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, her food and water quickly ran out, so Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael down on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba; today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj. (Wikipedia has details.)


During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since. While on Hajj, men and women are permitted to perform the rituals side-by-side as a reminder that they will also stand together on Judgment Day.

Crowd gathers at large, circular stone wall

Pilgrims participate in the ritual stoning of the devil at Hajj 2006. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Prior to the start of Hajj, pilgrims go to the entry station where they bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent. The first ritual of Hajj is performed inside the Grand Mosque complex: pilgrims circle the Kaaba structure seven times, counterclockwise, reciting prayers (tawaf). Following tawaf, many drink from the Zamzam well. Next, Muslims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did (al-Sai). Another statement of intent is made, after which the faithful travel through Mina, and on to the plains of Mount Arafat.

Intense prayer for forgiveness is offered at Arafat, as Muhammad said, “Far more people are freed from the Hellfire on the Day of Arafat than on any other day.” This portion of the Hajj journey is one of the most important. Small stones are gathered, and the following day, pilgrims perform a symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina (rami).

Animal sacrifices are performed as Muslims the world over celebrate Eid al-Adha, and male pilgrims on Hajj customarily shave their heads. Pilgrims return to Mecca to repeat Tawaf, crossing Sara and Marwa, performing additional symbolic stonings and circulating the Kaaba one final time, to do a farewell tawaf.


This year, Kenya will have the highest number of pilgrims traveling to Mecca for Hajj in the history of the country, with a record-breaking 4,500 pilgrims—up from 3,000 last year, in 2013. (Read more in the Standard Digital.) Not all numbers are increasing, though: This year, visas have been banned by the Saudi Ministry of Health for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, for fear of pilgrims from those countries spreading the incurable Ebola virus that is currently most prevalent in the nations. Overall, numbers of attendees at Hajj have been steadily increasing in recent years, although last year’s attendance of approximately 2 million—an astonishing drop from the previous year’s approximately 3 million—shocked many.

Interested to read more on the Ebola virus—and what is being done to prevent a Hajj outbreak? Learn more in this article, which also discusses the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) and how pilgrims can take proactive measures to protect themselves. The BBC also published a story on the subject.

Bollywood icon to perform Hajj: India is buzzing with headlines about Bollywood icon Kadir Khan, a 78-year-old celebrity who has received several film awards and will perform Hajj at Mecca this year.

Grand Mosque expansion continues: Construction on the fourth extension project of the Grand Mosque—which is expected to be complete in 2020—continues, but this year, more than 2 million pilgrims can use the newly expanded mosque and courtyard areas for prayers. The extension projects began in response to growing annual numbers of Hajj pilgrims. Check this out! The Huffington Post published a series of photographs of the Grand Mosque complex, expanding through the years.

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Categories: Muslim