His­tory and tra­di­tions of Mus­lims’ holi­est des­ti­na­tion come alive in this book

India Today - - LEISURE - By S. Y. Qu­raishi S. Y. Qu­raishi is the Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner of In­dia

Un­der­stand­ing Hajj is in­te­gral to an un­der­stand­ing of Is­lam. Ev­ery Mus­lim as­pires to make that jour­ney. It is one of the five pil­lars of the faith. No words can de­scribe the awe and emo­tion on first com­ing face to face with the mod­est cu­bi­cal struc­ture one has seen in print, film and TV mil­lions of times. How­ever, this book cap­tures the magic of this holy rit­ual more graph­i­cally than any other.

Writ­ten by five bril­liant schol­ars of London, it was first pub­lished this year by the Bri­tish Mu­seum Press, in­tended as a com­pan­ion to an ex­hi­bi­tion on the sub­ject. The ex­hi­bi­tion dis­played a fas­ci­nat­ing range of ob­jects from the key public and pri­vate col­lec­tions drawn to­gether.

It is a very pleas­ing mix of text, pho­tos and images for Mus­lims and non- Mus­lims alike. The in­ten­tion of cov­er­ing his­tory, voices and ma­te­rial un­der one cover is am­ply achieved.

The chronol­ogy starts with the Hi­jra— mi­gra­tion of the Prophet and his fol­low­ers from Mecca to Me­d­ina— and is, there­fore, con­fined to a concise over­view of key Hajj- re­lated events.

Karen Armstrong’s in­tro­duc­tory piece “Pil­grim­age: Why Do They Do It?” sets the foun­da­tion of the book, high­light­ing the com­mon­al­i­ties of pil­grim­ages across dif­fer­ent re­li­gions, some­thing that not many con­sciously think about.

Hajj did not orig­i­nate with Prophet Mo­ham­mad, but thou­sands of years be­fore, with Prophet Abra­ham. Most of Hajj rit­u­als are based on the ac­tions of Abra­ham and his fam­ily.

M. A. S. Ab­del Haleem delves into the spirit and rit­u­als of the Hajj, from its pre- Is­lamic ori­gins to the first and only Hajj led by the Prophet Muhammad which fixed the var­i­ous rites and se­quence of events fol­lowed to this day.

Hugh Kennedy and Robert Ir­win cover the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of hu­j­jaj ( pil­grims) over a vast pe­riod in “The Jour­ney to Mecca: A His­tory”. While Mus­lims who have per­formed the Hajj in mod­ern times have it easy, from the early days to roughly the be­gin­ning of 1900 AD, the lo­gis­tics in­volved were mind- bog­gling; for ex­am­ple: en­sur­ing food and water avail­abil­ity along the route through the desert. “At its height, the

Caliphate ( ed. Ab­basid, from 750 AD) had the ca­pac­ity for or­gan­i­sa­tion and con­struc­tion on a scale not seen since the Ro­man em­pire.”

The water tanks and reser­voirs en route, the con­cept of “econ­omy class pas­sen­ger” 800 years ago, and the treat­ment of pil­grims on the way to and from Mecca and dur­ing Hajj all make fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing.

Zi­aud­din Sar­dar takes us from 1950 to 2012, and the mon­u­men­tal changes made by suc­ceed­ing Saudi kings due to the vastly in­creased num­ber of pil­grims re­sult­ing from the use of air trans­port: Im­pact on the Haram mosque, the sites around Mecca, the re­think­ing of pil­grims’ modes of trans­porta­tion dur­ing the Hajj pe­riod, the co­or­di­na­tion with the coun­tries of ori­gin of the pil­grims. To sum­marise: “The Hajj pushes to the limit ev­ery sys­tem of or­gan­i­sa­tion known to man,” and the mu­ta­tion is con­tin­u­ous.

Vene­tia Porter ends this very com­mend­able joint ef­fort with de­scrip­tion and il­lus­tra­tions of “The Mod­ern Art of Hajj and Tex­tiles of Mecca and Me­d­ina,” which briefly re­count the his­tory of the cloth cov­er­ings of the Ka’ba through the ages.

The beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions and maps are fun­da­men­tal to the use­ful­ness of the book and the notes; the ref­er­ences and fur­ther read­ing and the Hajj travel nar­ra­tives are the cherry on this feast for the eyes and mind. The book is a lot more than a cof­fee ta­ble. For the enor­mity of the in­for­ma­tion it con­tains, be­sides its weight, the book is best suited for the study ta­ble. I wish, how­ever, that the events from the Prophet’s birth to Hi­jra had been briefly in­cluded to com­plete the back­drop.






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