Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam

26 January – 15 April 2012
Reading Room
Admission charge

Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam will be the first major exhibition dedicated to the Hajj; the pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is central to the Muslim faith.  The exhibition will examine the significance of the Hajj as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, exploring its importance for Muslims and looking at how this spiritual journey has evolved throughout history. It will bring together a wealth of objects from a number of different collections including important historic pieces as well as new contemporary art works which reveal the enduring impact of Hajj across the globe and across the centuries. The exhibition which has been organised in partnership with the King Abdulaziz Public Library Riyadh will examine three key strands: the pilgrim’s journey with an emphasis on the major routes used across time (from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East); the Hajj today, its associated rituals and what the experience means to the pilgrim; and Mecca, the destination of Hajj, its origins and importance.

It is laid down in the Qur’an that it is a sacred duty for Muslims everywhere, if they are able, to make the journey to Mecca at least once in their lives. This pilgrimage takes place during the last month of the Islamic year, known as Dhu’l Hijja. At the heart of the sanctuary at Mecca lies the Ka’ba, the cube-shaped building that Muslims believe was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. It was in Mecca that the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations in the early 7th century. Therefore the city has long been viewed as a spiritual centre and the heart of Islam. The rituals involved with Hajj have remained unchanged since its beginning, and it continues to be a powerful religious undertaking which draws Muslims together from all over the world, irrespective of nationality or sect. .

A wide variety of objects will be lent to the exhibition. Loans include significant material from Saudi Arabia including a seetanah which covers the door of the Ka’ba as well as other historic and contemporary artefacts from key museums in the Kingdom. Other objects have come from major public and private collections in the UK and around the world, among them the British Library and the Khalili Family Trust. Together these objects will evoke and document the long and perilous journey associated with the pilgrimage, gifts offered to the sanctuary as acts of devotion and the souvenirs that are brought back from Hajj. They include archaeological material, manuscripts, textiles, historic photographs and contemporary art. The Hajj has a deep emotional and spiritual significance for Muslims, and continues to inspire a wide range of personal, literary and artistic responses, many of which will be explored throughout the exhibition.

This exhibition concludes the British Museum’s series of three exhibitions focused on spiritual journeys.

In partnership with King Abdulaziz Public Library, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

HSBC Amanah has supported the exhibition’s international reach outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Hajj certificate (detail). 17th–18th century AD. Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art (Khalili Family Trust).

Notes to Editors:

  • Opening hours 10.00-17.30 Saturday to Thursday, 10.00-20.30 Fridays. The exhibition runs between 26 January – 15 April 2012

  • Admission charge £12, children under 16 and Members free plus a range of concessions including group rates. Tickets are available to book through the box office by calling 020 7323 8181 or online at  www.britishmuseum.org/hajj. A full public programme will accompany the exhibition. More information is available from the press office.

  • An accompanying catalogue will be published by British Museum Press: Hajj; journey to the heart of Islam, is edited by Venetia Porter and features contributions by leading scholars, paperback £25

  • The King Abdulaziz Public Library is a philanthropic institution which was established in 1985. It is supported by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who is Chairman of its Board of Directors. The library seeks to disseminate knowledge and culture in Saudi society, with emphasis being placed on its Islamic and Arabic heritage and the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its founder, King Abdulaziz. The Library is pleased to be coordinating the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s participation in this unique exhibition about the Hajj at the British Museum.  www.kapl.org.sa

  • HSBC Cultural Exchange is the bank’s global cultural sponsorship programme. As an international bank working with clients across more than 80 countries worldwide, HSBC encourages the exchange of ideas across different cultures to generate and strengthen international business relationships. Since its launch in 2008 HSBC’s Cultural Exchange programme has embraced culture in its widest sense in more than 25 countries – from fine art to cuisine, from language and literature to dance, street arts and all forms of music. HSBC’s Cultural Exchange

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council award. The British Museum has been awarded an AHRC grant to support the research for the exhibition and accompanying publication. The outcomes will include an academic conference on Hajj and a collaboration with the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds to explore British Muslim communities' experiences of Hajj.


For further information or images please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8583 / 8394 or communications@britishmuseum.org

Tickets are now on sale. To book tickets please visit www.britishmuseum.org/hajjor phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181