Tag Archives: British Museum

Hajj

A believer perceives his misdeeds as a rock that is about to crush him whereas a wicked person dismisses his sins like shooing a fly away.

These words are from  Daily Wisdom – Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. I bought this book recently when I was at the British Museum to see the exhibition Hajj : journey to the heart of Islam. Situated inside the Reading Room of the museum this exhibition follows Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca, a requirement that Muslims should perform once in their lifetime, and one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Pilgrims dress in simple white clothes. Here everyone is equal. During the six days Muslims circumambule around the Ka’aba seven times, run seven times between two hills, recalling the plight of Hagar and her son Ishmael – after they were cast out by Abraham they were saved from death by a spring which God caused to gush from the sands of the desert.  Pilgrims draw water from this well called zamzam before going out of Mecca to Mount Arafat where they stand from midday to sunset in meditation before God.  The following day pilgrims enter Mina to throw pebbles (gathered at Mazdalifa the night before) at three stone pillars which represent  Abraham’s resistance to the temptation of the devil.  Afterwards a ritual sacrifice takes place.  Pilgrims buy tokens to purchase a sheep for the Festival of Sacrifice and meat is distributed to the poor.

The exhibition was well laid out with fine objects, fabrics that had once covered the Ka’aba, photos of pilgrims setting off from various parts of the world through the ages (travel has certainly become more comfortable and less life-threatening over the years), maps of routes, videos, artwork inspired by the pilgrimage and books.  The main video filmed parts of the six day pilgrimage showing all the stages mentioned above. I was most fascinated by the compasses used by the faithful to enable them to pray in the right direction and the right time from various parts of the world.  I also loved the Arabic script, seeing it evolve over the ages.

While I was at the museum I also had time to view the Islamic World room which again had fascinating objects, vibrantly coloured plates and bowls and exquisite writing sets and more artwork inspired by the act of pilgrimage.

I have a little weakness for gift shops so as well as the book I bought some prayer beads (which I was told by a Muslim that you could buy them in her country for £2 – these, the cheapest were around £10, but the money goes to a workshop which supports the disabled women in Riyadh who make them).  I also bought a CD of Sufi music (Sufi’s are the mystics of Islam). I like the music very much.

The exhibition is due to finish in the next few days.  If you have a chance to go it is well worth seeing and is a wonderful  insight to the Islamic faith and what it means to pilgrims.