Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Review - A Journey of Enlightenment: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Review - A Journey of Enlightenment: News

Article excerpt

For centuries, Muslims have travelled to Mecca for the hajj. Paupers have saved for a lifetime in order to make the journey and princes have travelled across the desert in palanquins.

Today, nearly 3 million Muslims make the pilgrimage every year. In a cynical, disbelieving world, many still describe the experience as transformative.

For non-Muslims, however, the hajj is out of bounds, spiritually and literally. The aim of the British Museum's new exhibition, Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam, therefore, is to provide a concentrated, facsimile version of the pilgrim experience.

There are three parts to the hajj and, thus, to the exhibition: the journey to Mecca, Mecca itself and the aftermath.

In the era before mechanised transport, the journey to Mecca could take months. One 12th-century pilgrim set out from Andalucia in February. His slightly circuitous route - avoiding Crusader Jerusalem - took six months.

A colourfully detailed map traces the 14th-century journey of Mansa Musa, a Malian king. He dispensed so much gold during a stop in Cairo that he depressed the Egyptian economy for a decade afterwards.

This part of the exhibition is, essentially, a bigger, shinier, grown-up version of one of its own exhibits: a 19th-century toy theatre, entitled The Caravan to Mecca. In front of a desert landscape, cardboard figures in fezzes erect tents and tend camels; other cut-out characters kneel in prayer.

The highlight, however, is the section describing the five days of rituals that pilgrims undertake in Mecca. …

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