Duke of Kent visits British Museum Hajj Exhibition

By Dr Mozammel Haque

His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, visited the Hajj Exhibition at the British Museum, on Monday, the 5th of March, 2012. His Excellency, Faisal bin Abdurrahman bin Muammar, Supervisor General of the King Abdulaziz Public Library, Riyadh , welcome him and other guests, to the exhibition, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam".

At the reception organised by the King Abdulaziz Public Library at the British Museum, Neil Macgregor, the director of the British Museum expressed his thanks to the King Abdul Aziz Public Library Riyadh. He said, "We are extremely keen to present to the public the experience of Hajj, the one which the non-Muslims are not allowed to see, not to be a party but to experience which are captured in exhibits."

There was excellent response from the public. Within the few weeks since the exhibition has been opened already 60,000 visitors came and visited with the enthusiastic interests, said the director of the British Museum.

Welcoming the guests and Duke of Kent, HE Faisal said, "Saudi Arabia is proud to host the largest annual gathering for peace and love among humans to perform the ritual of the Hajj and to get closer to God on the plains of Blessed Makkah and the holy places."

He also mentioned about initiative of King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques who initiated important initiative of interfaith dialogue three years ago for the followers of different religions and cultures to come closer to each other.

Dr. Faisal said this exhibition make visitors observe the civilization, tolerance, and culture of Islam and gives them an opportunity to know the significance of the Hajj and its contribution to mutual knowledge and understanding, brotherhood and affection among Muslims of various races, cultures and nations."

"We share a lot of things with other religions," said Dr. Faisal and added, "600 million Muslims pray five times a day facing the Qibla and in their prayers they ask God for peace and love for the Muslims and the non-Muslims in Europe and the people throughout the world and also to teach the new generation of the message of Islam."

Kwasi Kwarteng, MP from Spelthorne

The reception at the Hajj Exhibition was visited by many Members of Parliament among the community leaders and dignitaries. I had the opportunity to interview some of them. Conservative Party Member of Parliament from Spelthorne, South West London, Kwasi Kwarteng, MP, observed, "This Hajj Exhibition is very well presented, very clearly presented. The most interesting information to mention is some of the artefacts astonishing, the Mahmal and the great silk objects, the ceramics, beautiful writings and calligraphy. It is very impressive. I think it will promote much deeper appreciation of Islam among people who are not familiar with Islamic culture and Muslim religion."

Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall

Another Member of Parliament from the Conservative Party for South East Cornwall, Sheryll Murray, MP, observed, "I think this exhibition is fascinating and I think it is a good thing that non-Muslim like myself can come and see it. It sets out very clearly and I feel very very privileged to have had the experience and I think it will create much better understanding for people like me and I think it is just really really a good thing for relations between the different religions. I think it is superb."

Rehman Chishti, MP, for Gillingham and Rainham

Another Conservative Member of Parliament for Gillingham and Rainham, Rehman Chishti, MP, observed, "It is a truly fascinating experience to be here today to see the first hand the values and the virtues of the Hajj, the importance of the Hajj, what it means to a Muslim and the history and the journey they set out for so many centuries. I think the Saudi government and the Saudi Embassy and everyone has done a great job by bringing that experience into London so people of all different faiths and all different backgrounds can experience this fascinating journey which of course it is."

BBC journalist, James Robbins

I met BBC journalist, James Robbins, who has been a diplomatic correspondent for the BBC since January 1998 and is currently based in London. I enquired his experience and comment on the Hajj Exhibition. Mr. Robbins said, "It is an extraordinary exhibition to me because it has told me a huge amount about Hajj which I don’t know and some of the basic things but I did not know the complexity of Hajj."

He also said, "It reminded me, I suppose, of the facts that so many Muslims make this incredible journey had done for centuries. I mean behind this there is an explanation how earlier pilgrims used to walk about the whole of Africa and I think from the west of Africa which they can carry travelling and sailing boats across towards the holy places and I think that’s remarkable."

Mr. Robbins also observed, "The exhibition also told me about the tolerance between religions. There is very interesting map to an Englishman like me which Queen Mary Tudor, a Roman Catholic, had made in 1555, the middle of the 16th century, which actually shows, Madinah Makkah which actually representation of the most of the holy places but showing the cathedral because I was born Christian like her would have understood holy places. But what I found really interesting nations in the atlas from 1555 this was where it was written in the book where Saracens went on pilgrimage rather it explained as Christians would go to Rome."

Mr. Robbins also observed, "I suppose more than anything what it actually reminds me anyway is of the commonness, the co-existence, and the shared heritage of the Abrahamic faiths. Abrahim is absolutely central to the Christian faith Christianity, to Judaism and to Islam and there are subtle variations what the different Abrahamic faiths believe. But the central truth and the central underlying moralities are very similar. I think for me that is the most interesting experience but also just sheer beauty in the exhibits. It is very striking that how much care individual human beings have taken over centuries to make great works of arts. They have in all religions, people dwell in great works of arts in Christianity as in Islam."

Mr. Scott Young, diabetic charity fundraiser

Mr. Scott Young, Diabetic Charity Fundraiser, said, "I think it is absolutely extraordinary exhibit. Looking at pieces like this you can see the devotion and spiritual commitment of people to create wonderful piece of art because of their faith even though there is no monetary reward, there is not even a reward of fame; there is only the reward of being a peace with your God your Allah and that’s very impressive to me today."

His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Mohammed bin Nawaf

His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Mohammed bin Nawaf said, "I just wanted to emphasize the importance of such an event not only to increase the relationship between the Two Kingdoms but also for the understanding of people and their religion, particularly Islam. Exhibition like this is very important because we have seen that many many people have been coming in and seeing the Hajj Exhibition. They want to come and want to see what makes three million people, even more, to come to the Hajj. The answer for that is simply its faith, its imaan, the belief in the Qur’an al-Kareem, belief in the Kitab Allah, the belief in religion and also the belief in the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). All these together bring them to the Hajj."

Prince Salman also mentioned, "For three months tickets were sold out every day; it is something that every Muslim whether from Saudi Arabia or outside should be proud of, because they are part of this."