Saturday, January 28

Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam Click for more info

Like all professional and "in there" Muslims living in London are bound to do at some point during the next three months, a few friends and I paid a visit to the British Museum's Hajj exhibition this morning.

I went knowing exactly what to expect and so I wasn't that surprised with what we saw. Three quarters of the floorspace (perhaps an exaggeration) was reserved for various Kiswah (coverings for the Kabaa) samples, and the remainder was spent on various diggings and artefacts found either in Makkah or its vicinity. And of course there was the inevitable "real life" accounts of those who had already been on the journey - you know, about how life changing it was and all that. If I was being harsh it was a little sales pitchy for me, and I could have done without the back patting and post justification.

For the non-Muslim attendees, there was a wealth of knowledge and insight for an event many will probably never come closer to; for the others however there wasn't much new to learn here (regardless of whether they may have been to Makkah or not).

It's the latter subtlety which I found the most important though: this was an exhibition about Hajj and not Makkah or Muslims, and for many pilgrims both in recent times and in the past that would have been a journey which spanned a much larger time and space than just the five days in the vicinity of the Kabaa.

And it was these aspects of the exhibition that I really enjoyed - the explanation of the various routes used by Muslims worldwide, the archival footage of them departing to and arriving from Hajj, and even the accounts of non-Muslims who smuggled their way in. All were all wonderful examples of the human side of the great pilgrimage.

Perhaps inadvertently, recording this kind of stuff is especially important in an age where Hajj and Umrah are becoming easier and perhaps even commodified - it's clear that the love, expense and real sacrifice people will now make for this obligation will never reach the heights of that made by our predecessors, and it's stories like these that can help remind us of both how lucky we are and what the real point of such a journey is.

On the same theme, it was interesting to see the temporal changes surrounding the tradition, from the almost exponential rise in numbers performing the ritual, to the way in which the sanctuary has physically changed over the years. I know it's fashionable to hate on Makkan development at the moment but I was pretty fascinated by the plans surrounding the extension of the mosque complex.

In conclusion then: if anyone doesn't get the chance to attend the exhibition then I wouldn't think that they were missing much - there's nothing really unmissable here and most of the facts and stories could possibly be found elsewhere. On the other hand if you did happen to be fortunate enough to check it out though I'm sure you'd enjoy it at least as much as I did.

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