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Read, Watch and Listen

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”

Being Tested: The Stoning of the Pillars

Having collected pebbles at Muzdalifa overnight, pilgrims stone three jamarat (pillars) back at Mina. This cathartic ritual commemorates Ibrahim's physical actions in rejecting Satan's attempts to test him. In the 1970s a jamarat bridge was constructed to convey pilgrims to the pillars, a site notorious for stampedes. In 2004 the pillars were replaced by huge walls. However, as this photograph shows, following 300 deaths in 2006, an entirely new bridge and multi-storey system was introduced. British-Muslims report feeling much safer.

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

From Sacrifice to Charity: Eid al-Adha

Together with the shaving/cutting of pilgrims' hair, it is the qurbani or animal sacrifice that seals Hajj. Most restrictions associated with ihram now come to an end. ‘Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) is celebrated simultaneously in Makkah and across the Muslim world. It commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, Isma‘il, in obedience to God. Today charities encourage British-Muslims to donate their qurbani offering to the poor world-wide. Here, an Islamic Relief shop in Bradford, promotes its campaign.

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

Souvenirs and Shared Blessings

Travelling material objects share the baraka (blessings) of the Holy Places. Perhaps the most significant of these is water from the well of Zamzam, which stands near the Ka’ba. Airlines currently allow each pilgrim to return home with up to 10 litres often in large, mass-produced plastic bottles like the one here at a mosque in Bury. Visitors may be invited to stand facing Makkah and drink the Zamzam from special cups, while listening to stories about its curative properties.

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