LONDON – A major exhibition on the Muslim hajj will open at the British Museum on Thursday, January 26, in an effort to educate non-Muslims about one of the five pillars of Islam.
"In terms of the mystery surrounding the hajj, I think we try and break the back of that in this exhibition so you learn a lot more about something you can't witness," Qaisra Khan, co-curator of the exhibition, told Reuters.
The show, which runs until April 15, takes visitors on a journey that starts with how Muslims prepare for the pilgrimage.
|Hajj: A Universal Message for Peace|
The exhibition, billed as the world’s largest on hajj, traces some of the main routes Muslims have followed over the centuries to get to Makkah.
It features recorded accounts of what the soul-searching journey meant to Muslims around the world.
It also displays archaeological material, manuscripts, textiles historic photographs and contemporary art that document journeys to the holy lands through history.
It also showcases loaned items from Saudi Arabia such as a "sitara" which covers the door of the Ka`aba, the cube-shaped building at the center of the Grand Mosque around which pilgrims must walk.
"People who don't believe in the religion of Islam aren't allowed (on the hajj) and therefore know very little,” said Khan, of Pakistani origin.
“But you'd be surprised how little Muslims know about the history of the hajj also."
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Islam for Peace
Curators hope that the exhibition will help clear many misconceptions about Muslims and their faith.
"If you look at the last five years, even if not the last 12 months, there is a lot about Islam and the Middle East in the press and it doesn't always get good press as we know,” Khan told Reuters.
"I think what the exhibition does is to talk about the one facet of Islam we don't know much about.
“And that it's very much about peace."
The exhibition also displays the kinds of clothes pilgrims wear during hajj and the souvenirs they bring back.
One section showcases contemporary artists' interpretations of the hajj, including Saudi Ahmed Mater's "Magnetism", in which tens of thousands of tiny iron filings form patterns around a central magnet that represents the Ka`aba.
Among the individual tales told is that of Evelyn Cobbold, who wrote that she was the first European woman to take part in the hajj.
Although never formally converted to Islam, she had long considered herself a Muslim and was granted permission to go on the pilgrimage in 1933.
Another Briton who earned considerable fame for his involvement in the hajj was Richard Francis Burton, a 19th century soldier and explorer who disguised himself as an Afghan doctor and Sufi dervish in order to avoid detection.He joined an Egyptian caravan to Makkah in 1853 and, despite several close scrapes, returned unscathed and wrote an account of his adventures in "A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Makkah".
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