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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


Sa‘i and Zamzam

The mas‘a (the place of sa‘i) from Futuh al-haramayn by Muhyi al-Din Lari (1582, Mecca)

The mas‘a (the place of sa‘i) from Futuh al-haramayn by Muhyi al-Din Lari (1582, Mecca)

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, MSS 1038 fol. 21a (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

This opening depicts the mas‘a where the ritual of sa‘i is performed. Safa is marked at the top left, and Marwa at the base.

On "The way of performing sa‘i" Lari writes:

You have gained your desire from the stage of tawaf
Move on soon to the Mas‘a to perform Sa‘i
Turn away from the House to the Gate of Safa;
go to Safa and climb up the steps to the top.
See the arch of Safa, like the vault of the skies,
with troops of angels up above it in lines…
Face towards the side holding His Black Stone,
back to the mount of His eternal generosity:
The mount of Safa its head raised up to the sky,
its height that of the sun’s and moon’s rising-points…
Descend quickly, then head towards the Mas‘a;
come into the valley, without your head or feet.
The Messiah’s feet will do the walking for you.
How could the wings of the angels reach your dust?
Start shuttling to and fro – such a coming and going
as gained for men that which angels never won…
Marwa is to one side, Safa to another;
the performer of Sa‘i must be true to his word.
Translated by Muhammad Isa Waley (The Art of Hajj, 2012)

Hadji ‘Abbas Hilmi II Khedive of Egypt at Mecca (Early 20th Century, Cairo)

H.H. Hadji ‘Abbas Hilmi II Khedive of Egypt at Mecca (Early 20th Century, Cairo)

‘Abbas Hilmi II, the last Khedive of Egypt (r. 1892—1914) led the Hajj in 1910. Here he is shown performing the ritual of sa‘i in a popular print from the Cairo Punch which published a series of prints between 1910 and 1932 that represented key events in the Middle East.

Performing sa’i (2010)

Performing sa’i (2010)

Qaisra Khan 2010

The ritual of sa‘i commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s wife Hagar’s search for water, after she was left in the desert by Ibrahim (Abraham) as a test of faith. Having exhausted her provisions, Hagar desperately ran seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa searching for help. On returning to her son Isma‘il (Ishmael), she found that a spring of water had gushed out of the ground. This spring is known as the "Well of Zamzam". During sa‘i pilgrims run and walk seven times between Safa and Marwa along a passageway on the eastern side of the sanctuary. The strenuousness of this exercise demonstrates the commitment that is required to live a life according to Islam.

The discovery of the well of Zamzam in Jami‘ al-tawarikh (Compendium of World Chronicles) by Rashid al-Din

The discovery of the well of Zamzam in Jami‘ al-tawarikh (Compendium of World Chronicles)by Rashid al-Din

Edinburgh University Library, Ms Or 20 fol.41a

This is fol. 41b from the Jami‘ al-tawarikh (Compendium of World Chronicles) by Rashid al-Din. The well of Zamzam was rediscovered by the Prophet’s grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib. It was revealed to him in a dream: "Where a whitefooted crow pecks on a group of ants, you will know you have found what you were looking for…" They saw a crow pecking on ants. So ‘Abd al-Muttalib dug there… and they first laughed at him, then marvelled at him. And before long he found an overflowing well.’ Illustrated here, ‘Abd al-Muttalib sets off with his son al-Harith and digs where he is told.

Zamzam water flasks

Zamzam water flasks

British Museum Af.+1756

Zamzamiyas, small bottles containing water from the sacred well, were often sealed and sold in Mecca. They are still highly cherished by pilgrims today, who take them home as gifts. Pilgrims would also bring their own flasks to Mecca and fill them with Zamzam water which they would use during their Hajj.

The example here is a Chinese porcelain water flask with leather string and sealing wax, produced in 19th-century China and acquired in Mecca. It still contains zamzam water inside it.

A Pilgrim’s Leather Flask (18th – 19th century, Ottoman Empire)

A Pilgrim’s Leather Flask (18th – 19th century, Ottoman Empire)

British Museum As. 4248 a-b

This is a water-bottle made of leather with iron hook and a turned wooden stopper that was used by pilgrims travelling to Mecca probably to fill with Zamzam water. Embroidered on the neck of the bottle is an Ottoman tughra, a calligraphic monogram, seal or signature of an Ottoman sultan.

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council