British Museum Hajj Exhibition Hajj

Journey to the Heart of Islam

By Dr Mozammel Haque

"Hajj celebrates peace, unity and our equality before God – men and women, of all ages, from every nation. It is a profound, life changing experience – it doesn’t guarantee a passage to heaven, but it focuses all Muslims on what is really important in life, as prescribed by our faith," said Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United Kingdom & Ireland at a Media Lunch on Tuesday, 24th of January 2012 prior to the British Museum Hajj Exhibition which will be inaugurated on Thursday, the 26th of January. High Royal Highness Prince Charles, heir to the British Throne, will be the honorary Guest.

The King Abdul Aziz Public Library of Saudi Arabia in cooperation with the British Museum is holding an Exhibition, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, which will be inaugurated on Thursday, the 26th of January, 2012 at the British Museum. Prince Charles is going to be the honorary guest for the inauguration of this exhibition and Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a Member of the Board of King Abdul Aziz Public Library will be present at the inauguration ceremony among others. . The British Museum Hajj Exhibition will be opened from 26 January to 15 April, 2012.

Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf at

Media Lunch at Saudi Embassy at London

The Saudi Arabian Embassy at London held a media lunch in preparation for the British Museum Exhibition on Hajj, titled Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, at the Saudi Embassy, London, on Tuesday, 24th of January, 2012. In the beginning, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom & Ireland, gave a short statement regarding the importance of Hajj as a spiritual journey, so central to the Muslim faith. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and Muslims all over the world are very much concerned about Hajj. That’s why, the Saudi Ambassador wanted to explain to Muslim and non-Muslim media about the importance of Hajj and its centrality to Islam and of course, Hajj has to be done in Makkah.

The Saudi Ambassador said, "We are sitting in the majlis, at the heart of the embassy where we hold prayers every Friday. You will see that pictures of the Holy Cities of Makkah Almukarrama and Medinah Almunawara surround us. This is particularly appropriate as we are here today to talk about the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah Almukarrama which is the focus of an exhibition being launched at the British Museum this week and to which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has contributed."

Prince Mohammed also mentioned, "This exhibition celebrates Hajj and traces the experiences of pilgrims undertaking this inspirational journey over the centuries. It also includes important artifacts and archive material from the Kingdom. "

"Through the exhibition you will see that Hajj has changed:  from a journey of great length and hardship undertaken by thousands, to the pilgrimage experienced by Muslims today, undertaken by millions," said the Saudi Ambassador.

Last year three million people from every corner of the world undertook Hajj. Many millions more visited the Holy sites on the smaller pilgrimage of Umrah.

"To accommodate the growing number of pilgrims who wish to undertake Hajj a dramatic expansion of Makkah Al-Mukarramah has become essential. The expansion, which we will also hear about today, will more than double the size of the prayer area around the Ka’bah, the House of God built by Abraham, peace be upon him," said Prince Mohammed and added, "Hajj is not just a physical journey: it is the most important spiritual journey a Muslim ever makes. It is an extraordinary experience. We leave our homes, our families and our every day concerns behind us, and submit ourselves totally to God’s will. This journey is at the core of what it is to be Muslim."

The Saudi Ambassador also mentioned, "Hajj celebrates peace, unity and our equality before God – men and women, of all ages, from every nation. It is a profound, life changing experience – it doesn’t guarantee a passage to heaven, but it focuses all Muslims on what is really important in life, as prescribed by our faith." 

"It is our duty individually as Muslims to make this journey. And it is our prime concern as the people of Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, to look after all pilgrims, their security and welfare and to care for Makkah Almukarrama and Medina Almunawara," concluded Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Dr. Ahmed bin Saifuddin Turkistani

Then Dr. Ahmad ibn Saifuddin Turkistani, on behalf of the King Abdul Aziz Public Library, Saudi Arabia, spoke about the history of Hajj and the history of Ka’aba as the center for Hajj and center of gravity for Muslims to come from all over the world in order to perform their duty of Hajj. Obviously Dr. Turkistani also talked about Hajj during the past, through different stages and periods till today. He also mentioned about different projects of developments and expansion of the Grand Masjid in Makkah al-Mukarramah and the holy sites. He particularly mentioned about the projects of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques regarding the expansion of Masjid al-Haram, expansion of al-Masaa, the new bridge of Jamarat and the Monorail and the Haramain Mashair and then he also mentioned about the Kiswa of Ka’aba and Zam Zam water project.

Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, also spoke on the website of this Hajj Exhibition. This website will be opened tomorrow, Thursday, 26th of January 2012 with the inauguration of the British Museum Hajj Exhibition. General public can visit the website. The British Museum Hajj Exhibition will be opened from 26 January to 15 April, 2012.

After the speeches, there were Questions & Answers session when members of the press, both Muslim and non-Muslim media, asked questions mostly and mainly about the new development, the cost of the new development, the accommodation of pilgrims in Makkah and the holy sites and the increasing numbers of pilgrims and so on and so forth. 

Media Conference at British Museum

Today, Wednesday, the 25th of January, the British Museum holds another media conference. His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed addressed the event. His Excellency Faisal bin Muammar the General Supervisor of the King Abdul Aziz Public Library was also present at the event to answer questions regarding the contribution of Saudi Arabia or the Library as a coordinator of the Saudi institution with the British Museum."

Interview Dr Ahmad Turkistani

Dr. Ahmad ibn Saifuddin Turkistani mentioned, "The King Abdul Aziz Public Library has contributed actually 51 pieces of artifacts and objects to be shown in the exhibition. Of course, there will be wider picture of the exhibition but you can never understand the past or appreciate the present unless you go to the past and follow the trace and the trail of the Hajj throughout the ages until today."

"There is some richness and lot of things in there at the Exhibition to see and to enjoy and to read and to bring back from history what took place in the past and actually this is important to make people aware," mentioned Dr. Turkistani.

Dr. Turkistani also emphasized on the importance of the Exhibition. He said, "Obviously you can see the importance of this event for the Muslim community here in Britain and for the British community at large where we need people to get better understanding of what Hajj is all about, what Islam is all about and obviously Hajj, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed pointed out today, Hajj reflects the basic tenets of Islam of peace, tranquility, equality, love of God and care for other pilgrims and so on." 

Statement from the King Abdulaziz Public Library

This exhibition celebrates Hajj, the most important journey taken by Muslims during their lifetime. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, a pilgrimage that all Muslims who are able, from every nation and race across our globe, must make at least once in their lifetime.

It is a profoundly spiritual journey: Hajjis are required to leave all their worldly goods and concerns behind and submit themselves totally to the will of God as they pray together as equals around the Ka’aba, the House built by Abraham, in Makkah al-Mukarramah. This is the cradle of Islam, the Qiblah of more than 1.6 billion Muslims who turn to it five times a day during prayer. Here, over the space of five days, pilgrims carry out the set rituals that make up Hajj. It is the world’s largest international gathering focusing on peace, tolerance and prayer – free from politics, dispute and debate.

Today more than 3 million Muslims every year leave their homes to take part in this pilgrimage. Many more visit this Holy City throughout the year on the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah.

This exhibition aims to tell the story of Hajj over the centuries, exploring the individual and multi-cultural experiences of pilgrims, as well as the routes taken as they are drawn in unity towards the Ka’aba. It traces the heritage of this inspirational journey up to the present day in terms of objects, maps, books, pictures and recollections from all over the world and includes significant artifacts from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Care for Makkah al-Mukarramah, for the Hajj, and for the security and welfare of all those undertaking this life changing journey and the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah, is the first priority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, his government and his people. The Kingdom is continually looking at ways to improve transport and other facilities for Hajjis, and is currently undertaking a he expansion of the prayer space around the Ka’aba to meet the needs of the increasing number of pilgrims wanting to perform Hajj.

On behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the King Abdul Aziz Public Library has worked in partnership with the British Museum to bring this Exhibition to fruition. We hope that through its visitors gain some understanding of Islam, and that it will be a source of inspiration, giving them a glimpse of the meaning of Hajj to Muslims worldwide.

Karen Armstrong in The Guardian

Karen Armstrong, the renowned scholar and commentator, writing in The Guardian, mentioned, "Ever since the Crusades, when Christians from western Europe were fighting holy wars against Muslims in the near east, western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith – even though when this prejudice took root Islam had a better record of tolerance than Christianity. Recent terrorist atrocities have seemed to confirm this received idea. But if we want a peaceful world, we urgently need a more balanced view. We cannot hope to win the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ unless we know what is actually in them. Nor can we expect Muslims to be impressed by our liberal values if they see us succumbing unquestioningly to a medieval prejudice born in a time of extreme Christian belligerence."

Writing on the eve of the exhibition at the British Museum – Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam – Karen Armstrong observed, "Like Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists, some Muslims have undoubtedly been violent and intolerant, but the new exhibition at the British Museum – Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam – is a timely reminder that this is not the whole story. The Hajj is one of the five essential practices of Islam; when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims ritually act out the central principles of their faith. Equating religion with ‘belief’ is a modern western aberration. Like swimming or driving, religious knowledge is practically acquired. You learn only by doing. The ancient rituals of the Hajj, which Arabs performed for centuries before Islam, have helped pilgrims to form habits of heart and mind that – pace the western stereotype – are non-violent and inclusive."

Karen Armstrong also mentioned, the Muslim Hajj is all about the Abrahamic family – not Muhammad himself. Pilgrims re-enact the story of Hagar and Ishmael, symbolically returning to the era that preceded religious chauvinism. Alas, all traditions lose their primal purity and we all fail our founders."

"But the British Museum’s beautiful presentation of the Hajj can help us understand how the vast majority of the world’s Muslims understand their faith. Socrates, the founder of the western rational tradition, insisted that the exercise of reason required us constantly and stringently to question received ideas and entrenched certainties. The new exhibition can indeed become a journey to the heart of Islam and also perhaps, to a more authentic and respectful western rational identity."