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Worshipers crowd around the Kaaba shrine in the Saudi city of Mecca, venerated as the most sacred site in Islam, in a satellite picture from DigitalGlobe. The image was captured from orbit on Nov. 2, just before the beginning of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. During the Hajj, millions of Muslims walk counterclockwise seven times around the Kaaba.

Alan Boyle writes

'Tis the season for religious holidays, including Hanukkah for Jews and Christmas for Christians. But the Muslim world has already marked its biggest religious observance of the year, with an orbiting satellite as a witness.

Today's offering for the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar adds an Islamic twist to the holiday countdown: Here's a picture from DigitalGlobe showing thousands of people gathering around the Kaaba shrine in Mecca on Nov. 2, just before the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Participating in the Hajj is a duty able-bodied Muslims are required to perform at least once in their lives. The capstone of the experience is the Eid al-Adha, a festival that commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God.

The scriptural story serves to illustrate the linkages between different religious traditions. Whether you observe Eid al-Adha or Hanukkah, Advent or none of the above, here's wishing you wider perspectives on the world and its inhabitants during this holiday season.

Some of those wider perspectives are on view in our Month in Space Pictures slideshow, which we've just published for November. Here's a lineup of links for the pictures included in the slideshow, plus pointers to some other space-themed Advent calendars:

Check back on Saturday for the next installment of our Advent calendar, which will be featuring new views of Earth from space every day until Christmas.

Correction for 2:10 a.m. ET Dec. 3: Space consultant Charles Lurio pointed out that in Islamic tradition, it's Ishmael who is offered to God by Abraham. I originally went with Isaac, in accordance with Genesis 22, but in this context I guess I should go with the Koran's version of the story. Many thanks to Charles for setting me straight.

Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.

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The Hajj pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims from around the world every year to Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's holiest place. Saudi Arabia expects to host perhaps three million people in a ritual journey that every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make at least once in their lifetime. It is the largest annual gathering of humanity anywhere. Timed to the Muslim lunar calendar, the Hajj is followed by the celebrations of the three-day festival of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which symbolizes Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Collected here are photographs of the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as well as images of preparations for the Hajj and Eid al-Adha in many other parts of the Muslim world. -- Lane Turner (42 photos total)
A Muslim pilgrim prays as visits the Hiraa cave at the top of Noor Mountain on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on November 2, 2011. According to tradition, Islam's Prophet Mohammed received his first message to preach Islam while he was praying in the cave. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

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The Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam and one of the largest religious pilgrimages in the world, is currently taking place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Starting last Friday and continuing through Wednesday, some 3 million Muslims from around the globe are participating in several rituals, including the Tawaf -- the circumambulation of the Kaaba, the enormous cube-shaped building in the center of the Masjid al-Haram mosque. The pilgrims are are also taking part in the Sa'i, traveling back and forth between the mountains of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, and Ramy al-Jamarat, in which they throw pebbles at three walls in the city of Mina to show their defiance of the Devil. Directly after the Hajj, Muslims all over the world will observe Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice. The feast honors Abraham who, according to Muslim tradition, was prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael before God sent a ram in his place. To commemorate this event, worshippers sacrifice sheep, cows, and camels, and share the meat among family, neighbors, and the needy. Collected here are scenes of this year's Hajj and Eid al-Adha, from Mecca and around the globe. [42 photos]

Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba, seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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