Getting to the heart of Hajj

Opening the blockbuster Hajj exhibition at the British Museum has been a journey in itself for HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud.

Ever since the idea was conceived, the Saudi Ambassador has taken a close interest in the exhibition – the largest-ever display of Hajj artefacts – by personally chairing a committee at the Embassy to liaise between the British Museum and the King Abdulaziz Public Library, which loaned 51 rare pieces for the show.

But the purpose of the exhibition – to give Western audiences from around the world a better understanding of Islam – was worth the effort, said the Ambassador at a recent press conference.

The British Museum also pulled out all the stops, using its contacts in locations as remote as Timbuktu to find precious items, both ancient and contemporary. These include a 16th century ivory sundial and Qibla pointer or compass, originating in Turkey (pictured, right) and an evocative modern work of art, Magnetism (pictured above), by Ahmed Mater, representing the Ka’ba, the black stone that the prophet Abraham is said to have built and which pilgrims circle seven times as part of the Hajj ritual.

Non-Muslims cannot witness the ritual but in the exhibition, visitors are taken on a journey to the city Muslims call Makka al-Mukarrama (Mecca, the Blessed), just as pilgrims have done for hundreds of years and as Prince Charles did when he opened the exhibition last week.

A large black cuboid, symbolising the Ka’ba, hung with intricately woven Islamic textiles, forms the heart of the show.

The exhibition traces the arduous routes that pilgrims take from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, using objects, charts and stories to evoke the history, spiritualism and meaning of the Hajj, one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith.

Hajj – Journey to the Heart of Islam is now showing at the British Museum until 15 April 2012. For ticket information, visit