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Read, Watch and Listen

Longing for Sacred Homelands

Hajj is a religious duty but Muslim culture also sustains a longing for Islam’s sacred homelands which are at once absent and present in everyday life. In these paintings, a London-based fine artist personalises the formal views of Makkah and Madinah which typically grace British-Muslim front rooms. At the centre of Makkah’s Great Mosque is the Ka’ba, the House of God and the direction of daily prayers. The green dome of the Madinah Mosque marks the beloved Prophet’s burial place.

© Kamel Baksh, 2015. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY-NC-ND”

The UK Hajj Industry

Until the 2000's Hajj-going in the UK was typically organised independently in small, informal groups. However, as part of increased regulation in response to pilgrim numbers, the Saudi authorities made it compulsory to travel with approved travel agents. There are now around 79 such agents in the UK. Of these, El-Sawy Travel, was perhaps the first to organise a formal Hajj ‘package’ during the early 1980s. The Egyptian-born owner is pictured outside his premises near Regent's Park Mosque, North-West London.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2014. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Making Preparations

In an online survey of nearly 200 British-Muslims conducted 2011-12, Islamic books were rated as the most important source of information about Hajj. This guide to performing the pilgrimage is especially novel and has proven to be a bestseller. Published in Birmingham by Al-Hidayaah (‘guidance’), an Islamic business which combines a bookstore with a travel agency, Hajj & Umrah made easy can conveniently be worn around the neck. A copy is photographed here at the Salafi Bookstore in Bradford.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2015. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Welfare, Training and Governance

Following a 1997 tent fire in Saudi Arabia which killed over 300 Hajjis, the UK's first pilgrim welfare organisation was founded in Birmingham. The Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) lobbies government to support UK citizens visiting Makkah. It also educates intending pilgrims about health and safety. At a 2014 event in Birmingham, speeches were delivered in English and Urdu by medics, Islamic scholars and civic dignitaries. Trading Standards in the city has been especially proactive in tackling ‘Hajj fraud’.

© Seán McLoughlin, 2014. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

The British Hajj Delegation

Under New Labour a British Hajj Delegation was established in 2000. Unique among Western nations, it made Foreign and Commonwealth Office support available on the ground in Makkah. However, in 2010, funding for volunteer medics ceased. This photograph shows the now privately-funded British-Muslim doctors in 2012. With government stressing the need for self-help in the Hajj travel sector, it also highlights the key contribution since the mid-2000s of a ‘second generation’ welfare organisation, the Bolton-based, Council of British Hajjis.

© Rashid Mogradia, 2012. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Ihram and Ritual Separation

At one of several miqats (boundary points) surrounding Makkah, pilgrims make ablutions, don their ihram (ritual attire), and state the intention to perform Hajj. They enter a state of consecration which includes various prohibitions. Travelling from the West today, the miqat is often reached en route to Jeddah International Airport. Here, however, British-Muslim pilgrims gather at the miqat nearest Madinah, Dhu’l Hulayfa. The women's light, cotton ihrams are optional, whereas men must wear two unstitched pieces of white cloth.

© Qaisra Khan, 2010. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Guests in the House God

Feelings of sacred time and space are confirmed for many when they see the House of God for the first time. The Ka’ba was built first by Prophet Adam and then rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim. Pilgrims must circumambulate the cube-shaped building anticlockwise seven times (tawaf). This image captures the oceanic experience that British-Muslims report, a sense of oneness (tawhid) with God. However, given the sheer weight of pilgrim numbers, the ritual is physically punishing. Sacred and mundane are navigated step-by-step.

© Peter Sanders, mid-1990s. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY-NC-ND”

In the Footsteps of Hajar

Pilgrims also re-enact the inspiring story of Hajar, Ibrahim's wife and Isma’il's mother. Hurrying (sa‘i) seven times between two hillocks, they embody her search for water having settled in the desert with her son. Drinking from the well of Zamzam, pilgrims recall the miraculous spring God revealed to save the pair. Nevertheless, some British-Muslims highlight the discrepancies between the sa‘i of sacred history and its modern manifestation. The ritual is now performed on marble floors inside the ever-expanding Great Mosque.

© Qaisra Khan, 2010. Creative Commons licence - “CC-BY”

Community, Equality and Difference

Having performed the Makkan rites, pilgrims leave their hotels and travel several kilometres into the valley of Mina. Here they camp overnight in a vast tented city. British-Muslims describe increased opportunities for interactions, both within their own groups and with pilgrims from across the world. They relate sublime and everyday moments when social divisions are dissolved and the idea of a united Muslim ummah (community) emerges. Yet, at other times, differences of class, gender, ethnicity and denomination also remain apparent.

© Simon Martin, 2009. Creative Commons licence – “CC-BY”

Seeking Forgiveness: The Day of 'Arafat

The zenith of the Hajj occurs on the plain of ‘Arafat beyond Mina. Here Adam met again with Eve after the Fall, and many pilgrims turn inwards to repent on Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy) where Muhammad gave his farewell sermon. As shown here, pilgrims stand in congregation (wuquf), fervently supplicating from noon until sunset. In their shroud-like ihrams, British-Muslims say that this also rehearses the Day of Judgement. Hajj is indeed a journey from sinfulness to purification.

© Simon Martin, 2009. Creative Commons licence – “CC-BY”