Three-Day International Hajj Conference
at the British Museum
Dr. Mozammel Haque
The three-day major multi-disciplinary academic conference on Hajj, organised by the British Museum, with the assistance from the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, held at the British Museum from/on 22-24 March, 2012. There were 12 sessions and 29 lectures in three days of the conference. The conference covered many aspects of Hajj, including literature, history, archaeology, pilgrims’ journeys, art, architecture, and photography and material culture.
Opening Address: Importance of Hajj
The opening address on the importance of Hajj was delivered by Professor M.A.S. Abdel Haleem of the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS). In his address he highlighted the centrality in the Hajj of the worship of God alone, which accentuates the spirituality of the experience. Performing Hajj is the lifetime ambition of even the poorest villagers to make the journey, to join the whole community of pilgrims, past and present, to actually see the Ka’abah, towards which they face in all their daily prayers, and affirm the essence of their faith: One God, one Kibla, one Kitab, and one religious community, the Ummah.
Professor Abdel Haleem said, “Hajj connects Muslims historically throughout the generations as well as geographically to other Muslims around the world at any particular time. This is one of the most unifying elements in the Muslim communities, Ummah and it’s a journey that makes a huge change in the spiritual and social life of the pilgrim.”
The Hajj has grown from only two people, Abraham and Ishmael, going round the Ka’abah, to now, when we have about 3 million pilgrims. Whatever the numbers, the faith that drives the believers guarantees that the Hajj will continue, even within the restrictions in space and time, as long as there are Muslims. From this faith have developed all the aspects of the Hajj shown in the British Museum Exhibition. The phenomenon provides fertile ground for the continued proliferation of religion-historical-cultural studies as exemplified in the programme of this conference.
History of Hajj is the history of continuity
Professor Hugh Kennedy Professor of Arabic at the SOAS, in his paper, “The History of the Hajj, c.630-1250” introduced some general points about the History of Hajj. He said, Hajj is an extraordinarily remarkable long living event in the sense that Hajj as we know that the Muslim Hajj begins with the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Prophet himself sets the pattern for all subsequent Hajjis but it is continued without no any interruption; ever since every year as far as we know Muslim has performed the pilgrimage.
Professor Kennedy also observed, “The whole pattern of the Hajj or the whole history of the Hajj is the history of continuity but at the same time is a history of change, development and alteration.”
Patronage by women for infrastructure
Professor Kennedy also mentioned about the Infrastructure development project during the Abbasids period. He said, “The Dhar Zubaida was series of forts and signs and above all water supplies and water systems that would guide and help the pilgrims across this desert. It was by far the biggest infrastructure project developed by the early Islamic Caliphs. And it is interesting that it was patronage by the women above all.”
Land and sea transportation
The Hajj was for many centuries a focal point for the many merchant travellers who found this event an opportunity to trade with other fellow Muslims from different lands. Both land and sea transportation had their advantages and disadvantages. Professor Dionisius A. Agius, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Material Culture at the University of Exeter, in his paper, “Cargo-Pilgrim vessels of the Red Sea in medieval Islam: perception and reception” discussed the various eyewitness accounts of Muslim writers.
Charles LeQuesne, an independent scholar, in his paper, “Hajj ports on the western coast of the Red Sea,” presented an overview of what is known of the key historic ports used by pilgrims travelling across the Red Sea from Africa. It examined the similarities and differences between the key harbours of Tur (in the Sinai), Suez, El-Qusayr, Aidhab/Halaib and Suakin.
Islamic contact with West Africa:
Malian Emperor Mansa Musa’s Hajj
Dr. Sam Nixon, Post-doctoral researcher at the University of East Anglia, in his presentation on “The Pilgrim returns: West African rulers and their Hajj-inspired grand schemes (AD 1000 to the modern era),” talked about the Islamic contact with West Africa. In the earliest centuries of Islamic contact with West Africa the ideas of central Islamic lands which filtered through to West African rulers were often highly selective and radically different from orthodox Islam.
From the 11th century West African rulers formed increasingly stronger ties with Islam and it is from this time that we have the earliest account of a ruler making the Hajj themselves. Throughout the centuries into the modern era a series of monarchs made their way to Makkah. The voyage across the Sahara from West Africa and into Arabia would undoubtedly have been a life changing experience, and it is clear that many of the West African rulers who made the journey were hugely inspired by it to change their own society. Dr. Nixon charted the most famous of these rulers and their Hajj-inspired works, including the religious, political and material changes which were undertaken in their society.
Speaking about Islam in West Africa, Dr. Nixon mentioned about Mansa Musa, the Malian emperor in the 14th century. He said, “Most famous Mansa Musa during his Hajj travelled to Cairo, brought huge amount of gold and spent in Cairo and that stabilised the Egyptian economy.”
There was a long series of Malian rulers went to pilgrimage prior to Mansa Musa. What makes Mansa Musa special was his contribution to monumental architecture in the Islamic tradition and mosque building on his return journey and the palace architecture at Niani (Malian capital). Dr. Nixon mentioned, He built this architecture in his palace. Mansa Musa’s promotion of the town Timbuktu as the greatest trading town which was never been known in that region and also promoting as a centre of Islam in West Africa to the level which was not really been seen previously. It included the famous University of Sankore and associated with it the tradition of gathering manuscripts copying took place in West Africa. This has given a great respect to Mansa Musa in West Africa.
Caliphs built Khans, Mosques, Forts
Andrew Petersen, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Wales Trinity St. David in his presentation on “The lost fort of Mafraq and the Syrian route in the 16th century by. The Ottoman conquest of Syria and Egypt” said, The Ottoman Sultan Selim I between 1515 and 1517 marks a turning point in the history of the region. The Ottomans showed their commitment to the revival of Syrian Hajj route by providing it with a number of facilities including khans, mosques and forts. One of the first Ottoman buildings within the newly conquered territories was the fort at Mafraq built under the orders of Selim I sometime between 1516 and 1520.
Mehmet Tutuncu, Chairman of Research Centre for Turkish and Arabic World, Haarlem in Netherlands in his presentation, on “The Ottoman inscriptions of the Hajj route from Damascus,” described the Ottoman Sultans role in building khans, mosques and forts. In 1517 the Arab provinces became part of the Ottoman State. Ottoman Sultans carried from these time the honorific title of Khadinul Harameyn (servant of the holy sites). They started building and restoring forts and water-reservoirs for the travellers’ pilgrims to Makkah performing the Hajj. In the Ottoman Hajj buildings many inscriptions were written.
Derek Kennet, senior lecturer at the Durham University, Andrew Blair, PhD student at the Durham University and Brian Ulrich, Assistant Professor at the Shippensburg University are conducting The Kadhima Project: mapping trade and pilgrimage routes in early Islamic north-eastern Arabia. The Kadhima project is investigating Sasanian and Early Islamic settlement to about 1000AD in the territory of modern Kuwait. Beginning with nomadic coastal trading sites in the Sasanian period, the project has been able to track the development of sedentary occupation in the later 7th and early 8th century along the coastal ‘Tariq Munkadir’ to al-Yamamah and the Hijaz (as reported by al-Bakri and others). Much of this is clearly oriented towards trade and pilgrimage into the interior of Arabia, as is demonstrated by the high levels of soft-stone cooking pots that are probably of Hijazi origin.
Sami Abd al-Malik, Director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt, in his presentation on “The Inns (khans) of the road of al-Hajj al-Misri during the Mamluk and Ottoman Period: a historical and architectural study,” spoke about the role of khans and their beginnings, its architectural plans, and how they work. During the early period of Islamic conquest until the end of the Fatimid period, we find that the majority of installations constructed for water and religious purposes. One of the oldest khans was constructed on this road in Yanbu and was described by Al-Maqdisi in the tenth century AD. The road architecturally flourished during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The security and commercial facilities were the most important features of the road.
These khans were constructed to save the secretariats and the funds of the traders and pilgrims, and to save grain crops for the pilgrims, and to keep them safe, and they acted as khans for traders and castles to maintain security, but this was due to the peoples and the soldiers of the Mamluks who took turns guarding each year with another group coming from Cairo, a system which continued in the Ottoman period.
Mercantile Activity associated with Hajj
Dr. Marcus Milwright from University of Victoria, Canada, in his presentation on “Trade and the Hajj: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives,”reviews the evidence for the varied mercantile activity associated with the Hajj, with a particular emphasis upon the Mamluk (1260-1516) and Ottoman (1516-1918) periods in Greater Syria.
Depictions of Qur’anic Verses
Professor Jonathan Bloom at Boston College, in his presentation on the “Depictions of the Holy Architectural ‘influence’ and the Hajj”examined a few characteristic concepts in Islamic architecture, such as the nine-bay mosque plan, the use of multiple minarets, and decoration with muqamas, to suggest that the pilgrimage to Makkah played a previously-unacknowledged role in the development of Islamic architecture in medieval times.
Sheila Blair at the Boston College, USA, in her presentation on “Inscribing the Hajj,” said the Qur’anic verses describing the Ka’abah as the first house of worship and pilgrimage to it as a duty owed to God (Qur’an 3:96-98) is the text most frequently associated with Makkah and the Hajj. Her paper traced the evidence, both written and visual, for the use of these verses from Abbasid times onward on the Ka’abah itself, the Kiswa or covering for it, and other objects associated with it such as keys and pilgrimage certificates, as well as on buildings erected in the Islamic lands.
Travellers and Pilgrimage Accounts
Professor Nile Green at the UCLA presented on The Steam Hajjis: Urdu and Persian Travelogues from the age of Industrialisation and Michael Wolfe provided a survey of a number of 20th century Muslim Pilgrims to Makkah, all of whom wrote books about their Hajj experience. As a point of departure and for contrast, Mr. Wolfe started with Arthur Wavell (in Makkah, 1908), the last of the non-Muslim Hajj adventurers. His presentation then proceeded to consider the experience and writing of Eldon Rutter (1925), Muhammad Asad (1927), Harry St. Jean Philby (1931), Evelyn Cobbold (1933), Hamza Bogary (1947), and Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1964).
History of Kiswa for the Ka’aba
Maria Sardi from Benaki Museum spoke on “Weaving for the Hajj under the Mamluks.” The Mamluk Sultans of Egypt and Syria held the prerogative of offering the Kiswa for the Kaaba in Makkah as protectors of Sunni Islam and Hejaz from 1250 to 1517. An annual ceremony was organised in Cairo for the departure of the pilgrimage caravan: The display of the Kiswa, the parade of the Sultan’s palanquin (Mahmal), the litters of the Sultans’ senior wives following the Hajj, which were covered with silk brocades, manifested the might of the Mamluks and their piety. The few surviving examples (e.g. the earliest extant Mamluk Mahmal), contemporaneous Arabic sources and traveller accounts, was used to illustrate the splendour of the woven items associated with the Mamluk Hajj, as well as the religious and political messages they conveyed.
Nahla Nassar, Curator of the Nasser D. Khalili Collections, in her presentation on “Dar al-Kiswah al-harifah in Kharanfash: Its artisans and their work,” spoke about the production of Kiswa. The production of the Kiswah of the Ka’abah – the set of textiles sent yearly by Egypt to the Makkan Sanctuary – moved to a new factory established by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1817. Known originally as warshat al-Kharanfash, it consisted of a complex of workshops that were well equipped with modern machinery and several hundred looms for weaving various types of cloth, including the black self-patterned drapes of the Ka'aba. One section, the qism al-zarkashah, was responsible for embroidering the hizam of the Ka’abah and a sitarah for its external door, another for its internal door and a third for the minbar of the Makkan Sanctuary, as well as a Kiswah for Maqam Ibrahim and a sitarah for its maqsurah.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the name of the factory was changed to maslahat al-kiswah and it was devoted exclusively to the production of the Makkan textiles, and by the 1920s – under its new name of dar al-kiswah al-sharifah – to their embroidery. A large number of artisans were involved in the embroidery; many started out as young apprentices and worked there for over 50 years. Calligraphers such as Abd Allah al-Zuhdi, Mustafa al-Hariri and Muhammad Ghazlan, designed the inscriptions which were then embroidered with fine-gauge silver and gold-plated silver wire (mukhayyash). The last kiswah sent by Egypt to Makkah was made in 1962.
Mohammed Hessein Al-Mojan, researcher in the Islamic Civilization and Arts, Saudi Arabia in his paper on “the Kiswah of the Prophet’s Mosque at Madinah,”spoke about the history of the emergence of the kiswah of the Prophet’s room and Mosque and the diversity of its parts. The kiswah of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah emerged during the Umayyad or Rashidi era and the first part that was visible is the covering of the pulpit. There are different historical accounts about the first to make the platform’s livery, whether Uthman ibn Affan, or Muawiya ibn Sufyan, and it was said, Ibn Al-Zubayr. The beginning of the clothing of the Prophet’s room was by Khaizran who is mother of Harun al-Rashid when she dressed the walls with silk. The first full kiswah of the room was by Al-Hussein ibn Abu Hija who was the relative of Al-Saleh Talaea in the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al- Mostadhae Be-Amr Allah (566-575 AH/1171-1180 AD), and it was of white silk with jamats “medallions” of yellow and red silk, and the belt of red silk on which was written Al-Yassin.
Two years later Al- Mostadhae dressed the chamber walls by a kiswah of violet silk with white silk jamats “medallions” wrote: Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali, and wrote on the model name Al- Mostadhae. Then the Caliph Nasser Le-Din Allah sent a new kiswah made from black silk with white silk jamats. Then a third covering was sent by the mother of Caliph Nasser Le-Din Allah. The cover of the doors of the Mosque appeared in the Abbasid era when clothing abounded on the doors of the Mosque, and they became their own covers in the Mamluk era.
Accounts of Hajj and Holy Places
Dr. Muhammad Isa Waley, part-time Lead Curator at the British Library, London in his paper on “Prosaic verse, poetic prose: Two accounts of Hajj and Holy places,” presented two accounts of Hajj and Holy Places. The best-known description in Persian verse of the Hajj and the Holy Places of Islam is the Futuh al-Haramayn of Muhyi (Muhy l-Din) Lari. This text, composed in the 16th century for a ruler of Gujarat, exists in almost twenty manuscripts that are notable for their colourful stylised illustrations. Some are known to have been produced in the Hijaz, and were probably made and sold as souvenirs for Pilgrims.
Dr. Waley made a comparison of Futuh al-Haramayn with the Tuhfet ul-Haremeyn, Yusuf Nabi’s account of his own pilgrimage. Nabi (1642-1712), a famous Ottoman writer, composed this work in prose, occasionally adding verses for ornament. His poetic genius, however, shines through the entire text, which evokes far more strongly than Muhyi’s the whole experience of pilgrimage: the travelling, expectations, sights, rituals, and emotions associated with the greatest moments of many believers’ lives. In this presentation, passages from each work was analysed and compared.
Dr. Waley’s own thoughts of Hajj
According to Dr. Waley, both the works deserve further study and translation. But before he concluded his presentation, he left his parting thoughts which are worth mentioning. He commended the Hajj Exhibition and the Hajj conference. He also said that those who perform Hajj have own memories and views. It is hardest to capture or exhibit inner meaning of rituals. The common threads in five pillars of Islam are: surrender, emptying out, giving in order to be purified and filled, Shahada (Submission to the Creator and Final Emissary), Salat (bowing, prostration), Siyam (Emptying, purifying), Zakat (paying, purifying), Hajj (visit “empty” House, stand on “empty” plain)), worshippers perform Hajj (etc.) from duty, lovers do from love.
Imam Bonjol (1796-1864) prayer book
Professor Jan Just Witkam from the University of Leiden described the prayer book of Tuangku Imam Bonjol (1796-1864), with texts in Arabic and Malay. The imam is now one of Indonesia’s heroes and his portrait is on the 5000 RP banknote. His illustrated prayer book, which comes from Sumatra (1814), shows, among other things, images of Makkah and Madinah. The prayer book is not a pilgrim’s guide, and the Imam never went on pilgrimage, but the images in the prayer book show an imagination of Islam’s Holy Land. These images of Makkah and Madinah stand in an iconographical tradition, which in one way comes from the Middle East (choice of subject), and in another way are typical for South East Asian book illustration (style and techniques). These different avenues were explored and the two iconographical traditions were treated within their religious, intellectual and art historical context.
Organising Hajj-going from Britain
Dr. Sean Mcloughlin, senior Lecturer in Religion, Anthropology and Islam at the University of Leeds is conducting research on Organising Hajj-going from Britain. His paper begins the task of tracking changing patterns of Hajj-going and its structure and organisation in England, especially in the last two decades. The research is based on mainly on interviews conducted in late 2011 with a small sample of representatives from the two main British Muslim pilgrim welfare organisations: two tour operators and their guides; UK government and trading standards. The research also draws on interviews with 30 pilgrims in different parts of England and an online survey of around 200 pilgrims. Overall, the paper reflects the general dynamics of an increasingly commercialised and regulated Hajj-going in late modernity, both in terms of the opportunities that this presents for tour operators and pilgrims but also in terms of meeting various challenges in the UK and in the Holy Places.