By Maya AlShabab.
The Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris presents an exposition entitled “Hajj, le pèlerinage à la Mecque” under the patronage of the IMA and King Abdelaziz National Library. The exposition showcases various sides of the historical journey to Mecca and its many social, spiritual and cultural aspects.
The sacred rituals and traditions of the season of pilgrimage (Hajj) date back to the 5th century AD. The significance of Hajj, which started as a response to a call of religious duty has gone beyond that to signify an extremely important station in the progress and transmission of human knowledge and culture, social and personal development, as well as contributing to the development of practical methods of transportation.
Pilgrims (Hajjis) who came from various places across the globe, as far away as Persia, China, India, Andalucía, Turkey, and the farthest Western coasts of Africa often travelling months on end. The trip used to take up to 6 months in caravans. Such a long journey often meant that the pilgrims would necessarily have to travel with many artifacts, personal books, and belongings that related to their own culture and in their own language. This was not only for their personal use, but also as a sort of personal souvenir from their homes.
In addition to that, Pilgrimage season and the months before and after it became extremely important periods for commerce and exchange of cultural and regional products. Often traders would come to preform pilgrimage, but also would transport with them their country’s most treasured products: the silks of china, perfumes of India, precious handmade artifacts from Africa, it became a distinguished place not only for knowledge exchange and cultural expansion. Hajj became the season to purchase rare products and introduce them into a new country to establish new channels of commerce.
Hajj also came to mark evolutions in social and personal manners, where people often inspired by the great spiritual zeal of the pilgrimage would ask forgiveness from those they have wronged and vow to leave the transgressions of the past behind.
Another side to the trip to Hajj is the extreme importance and documentation that has always surrounded the means of transportation for the Hajjis. Transportation often became part of the tale of Hajj. Often in caravans, in older times every regional country (Egypt, Arabian Maghreb, Andalucía, Turkey…etc.) would organize a well protected envoi of Hajjis, people who are registered and given certificates as pilgrims, and who are escorted by guides specialised in the routes to Mecca. The progress of means of transportation can be clearly studies by tracing the progress in ways in which pilgrims arrived at Mecca, be it camels and caravans, boats and ships, or modern day transportation.
The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking of Hajj is not only the spiritual strength and experience in the multitudes of people performing similar acts at the same time in the same place, and the power and magnitude that those unified actions bring, but also beyond that the wisdom in the symbolism of absolute equality, symbolising the equal right to Mecca that all Muslims have. This along with a sense of duty to honour the Holy land drove kings and empires across the ages to pay special attention to the architecture, design and expansion of the mosque and sacred locations in Mecca and Medina, the city of prophet Mohamed.
The Hajj exposition is taking place at the Institut de Monde Arabe in Paris, and will be running until the 17th of August. To learn more, please visit ‘Hajj Expo‘.