Rarely does the cultural history of so many different regions across the world converge into a single exhibition. The British Museum’s current exhibition, ‘Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam’ has taken London by storm, with record visitor numbers across a vast demographic, breaking boundaries of education, socio-economic class, religion and cultural background.
One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca – the spiritual centre of Islam – and is a requirement of all Muslims to be completed at least once in their lifetime if they are able. The Hajj occurs in the last month of the Islamic calendar, the date changing each year according to lunar activity. Today, it is the largest annual event to occur with over 3 million Muslims converging on Mecca every year.
Entering the exhibition you explore the physical journey of pilgrims, who for centuries have made their way to Mecca from the far flung corners of West Africa, India, Indonesia and China. A vast array of artefacts, maps & manuscripts accompany the development of the journey as time as advanced the way we travel.
Most interestingly, the exhibition gave insight into how the Hajj takes place today as it intertwines the traditions and rituals involved with the pilgrimage, with the modern age of 21st century even management. With millions of people flocking to Saudi Arabia from all over the globe in such a small period of time, dedicated travel agents provide pilgrims with all material one would receive for a festival of gigantic proportions; like maps, passes, wristbands, guides and itineraries.
The exhibition combined the cultural history of the spiritual journey with its current practices, juxtaposing ancient artefacts with fascinating pieces by contemporary Islamic artists exploring their relationship with the Hajj in their modern worlds. Overall, it proved to take the concept of the journey from all angles and meanings – whether physical or spiritual – and was successful in its aims for visitors to leave with both understanding, but more importantly questions, curiosities and desire.
‘Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam’ is on display at the British Museum in London from 26 January to 15 April 2012. For more information on the exhibition and what else is on at the British Museum, visit www.britishmuseum.org.