British Museum Haj show seeks to explain Islamic ritual to non-Muslims and Muslims

January 26, 2012

(The photogravure etching entitled ''Magnetism'' by artist Ahmed Mater is seen in a reproduction provided by the British Museum in London January 25, 2012. Reuters/Ahmed Mater and the Trustees of the British Museum/handout)

Billed as the first major exhibition devoted to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, “Hajj: journey at the heart of Islam” at the British Museum aims to lift the veil on a ritual that is a mystery to many in the non-Muslim world. Curators also said they hoped the show, which runs from January 26-April 15 at the London venue, would be visited by Muslims as well as non-Muslims who are not allowed to join the haj.

“People who don’t believe in the religion of Islam aren’t allowed (on the haj) and therefore know very little, but you’d be surprised how little Muslims know about the history of the haj also,” said Qaisra Khan, co-curator of the exhibition. “For me personally it’s been a huge learning curve over the past two years,” she told Reuters. “In terms of the mystery surrounding the haj, I think we try and break the back of that in this exhibition so you learn a lot more about something you can’t witness.”

Pakistan-born Khan believed that its message of peace was particularly important because the outside world’s image of the Middle East had been associated in recent years with violence and upheaval. “If you look at the last five years, even if not the last 12 months, there is a lot about Islam and the Middle East in the press and it doesn’t always get good press as we know.

“I think what the exhibition does is to talk about the one facet of Islam we don’t know much about and that it’s very much about peace.”

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