Hajj group leader
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Preparing the pilgrims

A group of Southern California Muslims led by Imam Moustafa Al-Qazwini, above, has traveled to Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that begins Tuesday. To prepare his pilgrims-to-be for the Hajj -- considered the spiritual pinnacle of a devout Muslim’s life -- Qazwini conducted classes in matters both sacred and practical. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Mother and daughter Zahra Hakak, left, and Nahid Chadorbaf, center, join Wafaa Al Jaff in listening to details of Hajj rituals during a class led by Imam Moustafa Al-Qazwini at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. They are part of a group of about 25 Southern California Muslims who are making this year’s pilgrimage. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Imam Qazwini explains to students the ritual performed at the Kaaba in Mecca. The cube-shaped stone structure draped in black cloth, which Muslims around the world face in their daily prayers, is the holiest place in Islam. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Amal Ayoub serves tea and dates to fellow Muslims attending a Hajj class at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Ellen and Raef Hajjali of Altadena had wanted for years to make the journey. Until this year, he said, “there wasn’t enough time with our schedules. Life in America is like that.” (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The massive Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, Saudi Arabia, was built around the humble green-domed mosque from which Muhammad preached to the earliest community of Muslims about 1,400 years ago. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Muslim worshippers return from noon prayers at the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, which contains the tomb of Muhammad. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Imam Qazwini leads his pilgrim group out of the Al Shajara mosque outside Medina. The group has just performed a mass declaration of intent to perform the Hajj -- the final step before traveling to Mecca. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)