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Exploring History and Culture: Top Tourist Attractions in Virginia

Virginia, known as the birthplace of the United States, is a state filled with rich history and vibrant culture. From historical landmarks to breathtaking natural wonders, this southeastern state offers a wide array of tourist attractions that cater to every interest. Whether you’re a history buff or an outdoor enthusiast, Virginia has something for everyone. In this article, we will explore some of the top tourist attractions in Virginia that are sure to leave you awe-inspired.

Historical Landmarks

Virginia boasts a plethora of historical landmarks that played significant roles in shaping American history. One iconic attraction is Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum that takes visitors back in time to the 18th century. Here, you can explore restored buildings, interact with costumed interpreters, and experience firsthand what life was like during the colonial era.

Another must-visit landmark is Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers guided tours where visitors can learn about Jefferson’s life and his contributions to American society. The stunning architecture and beautiful gardens make Monticello a truly remarkable destination.

Natural Wonders

For nature lovers seeking outdoor adventures, Virginia has an abundance of natural wonders waiting to be explored. Shenandoah National Park is a paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts alike. With over 500 miles of trails winding through majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls, this national park offers breathtaking views at every turn.

The Luray Caverns are another natural wonder not to be missed. These underground caverns feature awe-inspiring rock formations and crystal-clear pools that create a magical underground world. Guided tours take visitors through these ancient chambers offering insights into their geological significance.

Cultural Experiences

In addition to its historical landmarks and natural wonders, Virginia also offers unique cultural experiences that showcase its diverse heritage. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond is a treasure trove of art from around the world. With its extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, the museum offers visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in various artistic styles and periods.

For music enthusiasts, a visit to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol is a must. This interactive museum celebrates the roots of American country music and its impact on popular culture. From exhibits on iconic musicians to live performances, this museum is a true homage to the rich musical heritage of Virginia.

Coastal Charm

Virginia’s coastline is home to charming beach towns that offer relaxation and scenic beauty. Virginia Beach is a popular destination for sun-seekers with its pristine sandy beaches and vibrant boardwalk. Visitors can enjoy water sports, explore marine life at the Virginia Aquarium, or simply bask in the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.

A visit to Colonial Beach is like stepping back in time. Known as Virginia’s Potomac River playground, this small town offers a laid-back atmosphere with stunning sunsets over the water. Stroll along the boardwalk or indulge in fresh seafood at one of the local restaurants for an authentic coastal experience.

Virginia’s tourist attractions provide visitors with a unique blend of history, culture, natural wonders, and coastal charm. From historical landmarks that shaped American history to breathtaking natural landscapes and immersive cultural experiences, this southeastern state has it all. Whether you’re exploring Colonial Williamsburg’s living-history museum or hiking through Shenandoah National Park’s majestic mountains, Virginia offers something for everyone seeking an enriching travel experience.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


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Mecca and the Ka'ba

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By: History.com Editors

Published: June 20, 2023

Muslim people praying around the Kaaba in Mecca.

The Hajj is the most ritualistic obligation in Islam and one of the largest Muslim pilgrimages in the world. It takes place once a year across several sacred sites in and around the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia—the birthplace of Islam.

The Hajj involves performing a series of rituals set out by the Prophet Muhammad that link the pilgrimage to Adam and Hawa (biblical Eve), the prophets Ibrahim (biblical Abraham) and Ishmael, and the Day of Judgement.

Most Muslims consider the Hajj to be one of the five pillars of Islam alongside the declaration of faith ( shahadah ); observing daily prayer ( salah ); fasting during the month of Ramadan ( sawm ) and giving to charity ( zakat ). As a result, they believe every Muslim who has the means is obligated to perform the Hajj before they die. If someone is sick or otherwise unwell, a person may appoint another to perform the hajj by proxy.

When Is the Hajj in 2023?

The Hajj is performed every year between the 8 th -13 th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Muslim calendar. In 2023 the start of the Hajj falls on June 26 and numbers attending are expected to return to pre-pandemic averages of around 2.5 million pilgrims.

The Story of the Hajj

The Hajj rituals were formalized by the Prophet Muhammad when he performed his one and only pilgrimage in the year A.D. 628. Many of the key rituals are centered on stories about God testing the prophet Ibrahim.

The first example is when Ibrahim is ordered to abandon his wife, Hajirah (biblical Hagar), and their baby son Ishmael—later, a prophet in his own right—in the desert near the ruins of the Kaaba (the stone building near the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca) .

When mother and child run out of provisions, Hajirah puts down her baby and runs up and down two hills called Safa and Marwa looking for help. Defeated, she cries out to God and returns to her baby who is scratching away at the sand with his feet. When Hajirah lifts up Ishmael, she sees freshwater bubbling up from beneath him and immediately begins forming a well around this, thus saving both mother and child. Hajirah’s frantic search is re-enacted by pilgrims in the ritual called saiy, and throughout the Hajj, pilgrims drink water from the well of Zamzam , believed to be fed by the same spring Ishmael dug with his feet.

hajj travel history


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The second example is when God tests Ibrahim’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son. Muslims believe that on his way to do this, Iblis ( Satan ) tries to dissuade Ibrahim. The spots where these "temptations" took place are now marked by three immense pillars in the desert outside of Mecca called Jamarat. One of the key Hajj rituals involves throwing stones at these pillars in a literal re-enactment of what Ibrahim did to cast Iblis aside, and in a symbolic rejection of one’s own temptations. Having rejected Iblis, when Ibrahim attempts to kill his son as he has been commanded to do, God replaces him with a ram to sacrifice instead. This act is also commemorated by pilgrims and Muslims around the globe on the 10 th of Dhu al-Hijjah when they sacrifice an animal to mark the start of the Eid al-Adha .

There is one other way the Hajj connects pilgrims to Ibrahim and this is at the Maqam Ibrahim or "Station of Ibrahim"—believed to be the platform he used to rebuild the Kaaba with Ishmael more than 4,000 years ago. Pilgrims try to pray behind this after performing tawaf (circling the Kaaba seven times).

However, the most important rite of the Hajj acknowledges the entire story of humanity at the plain of Arafat, also in the desert outside Mecca, where pilgrims must stand on the 9th of Dhu al-Hijjah. This is where Muslims believe God forgave Adam and Hawa; it is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon to complete the faith of Islam, and where the Last Judgement is believed to take place in the future.

Hajj Rituals

Hajj can be performed in at least three ways; Hajj Qiraan, Thamattu and Ifraad . The most popular is Hajj Thamattu, in which pilgrims perform the "lesser Hajj," the Umrah , alongside the Hajj proper. Hajj Qiraan is the same but pilgrims perform both in one go. Hajj Ifraad sees pilgrims only perform the Hajj, and there is no obligation to sacrifice an animal.

To perform Hajj Thamattu Muslims first enter ihram (a state of purity) at one of the designated stations outside of Mecca; ihram is best symbolized by the two simple unstitched white sheets worn by men, resembling Muslim funerary shrouds.

The pilgrim then heads to the Kaaba to perform tawaf , starting and ending at the Black Stone. They then try and pray behind the Maqam Ibrahim before performing saiy , by walking and running seven times between the sacred hills, Safa and Marwah. After this the pilgrim come out of ihram by shaving or trimming their hair.

The pilgrim again assumes ihram ahead of the 8 th of Dhu al-Hijjah when they head to Mina, a large tent city in the desert outside Mecca to spend the day in worship, contemplation and prayer. The next day at dawn, they make for the plains of Arafat where they spend as much time as possible in prayer before sunset; this is the most important act of the Hajj. Every other rite can be missed for valid reasons (though a compensation must be paid), but not this one. Once the sun sets, pilgrims head to another site in the desert, Muzdalifah, to spend the night under the stars, praying and collecting the small stones they will use the following day.

At sunrise on the 10 th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the first day of Eid al Adha, all pilgrims make their way to one of the three Jamarat pillars called the Jamarat al-Aqabato and throw seven stones at it. After this each pilgrim arranges for an animal (cow, goat, sheep or camel) to be sacrificed on their behalf ( hady ) and the meat distributed to the needy before shaving or cutting their hair to exit ihram. The pilgrim then returns to Mecca to perform another tawaf; another prayer behind Maqam Ibrahim and another saiy .

Some Shi’a Muslims perform tawaf one more time at this point. All pilgrims then return to Mina for the next two or three days to stone all three pillars seven times each day and perform further acts of worship. After leaving Mina for Mecca, they perform one more tawaf , known as the farewell tawaf (if they didn’t do so earlier) to conclude their Hajj journey.

If properly conducted, the entire pilgrimage is believed to wipe out sins for true believers.

— Authored by Tharik Hussain, fellow at the Centre for Religion and Heritage at the University of Groningen and the Royal Geographical Society in London, and author of Minarets in the Mountains: a Journey into Muslim Europe published by Bradt.

"The Hajj Diaries," by Tharik Hussain, August 6, 2019, Lonely Planet . "A Brief History of the Hajj," by Alyssa Fetini, November 25, 2009, Time Magazine . "Hajj: When is it, how did it start, and other key questions explained," by Rayhan Uddin, July 17, 2021, Middle East Eye . "Practices in Islam," BBC Bitesize . Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca, BBC . "Hajj 2023: Dates, cost, packages and what you need to know," by Mariam Nihal, May 24, 2023, The National .

hajj travel history

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hajj travel history

Short History of Hajj

hajj travel history

Hajj and its rites were first ordained by Allah in the time of the Prophet lbrahim [Abraham] and he was the one who was entrusted by Allah to build the Kaba - the House of Allah - along with his son Ismail [Ishmael] at Makkah. Allah described the Kaba and its building as follows:

"And remember when We showed Ibrahim the site of the [Sacred] House [saying]: Associate not anything [in worship with Me and purify My House for those who circumambulate it [i.e. perform tawaaf] and those who stand up for prayer and those who bow down and make prostration [in prayer etc.]." [ Surah Al-Hajj 22:26 ]

After building the Kaba, Prophet Ibrahim would come to Makkah to perform Hajj every year, and after his death, this practice was continued by his son. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rites were changed. As idolatry spread throughout Arabia, the Kaba lost its purity and idols were placed inside it. Its walls became covered with poems and paintings, including one of Jesus and his mother Maryam and eventually over 360 idols came to be placed around the Kaba.

During the Hajj period itself, the atmosphere around the sacred precincts of the Kaba was like a circus. Men and women would go round the Kaba naked, arguing that they should present themselves before Allah in the same condition they were born. Their prayer became devoid of all sincere remembrance of Allah and was instead reduced to a series of hand clapping, whistling and the blowing of horns. Even the talbiah [ 1 ] was distorted by them with the following additions: 'No one is Your partner except one who is permitted by you. You are his Master and the Master of what he possesses'.

Sacrifices were also made in the name of God. However, the blood of the sacrificed animals was poured onto the walls of the Kaba and the flesh was hung from pillars around the Kaba, in the belief that Allah demanded the flesh and blood of these animals.

Singing, drinking, adultery and other acts of immorality was rife amongst the pilgrims and the poetry competitions, which were held, were a major part of the whole Hajj event. In these competitions, poets would praise the bravery and splendor of their own tribesmen and tell exaggerated tales of the cowardice and miserliness of other tribes. Competitions in generosity were also staged where the chief of each tribe would set up huge cauldrons and feed the pilgrims, only so that they could become well-known for their extreme generosity.

Thus the people had totally abandoned the teachings of their forefather and leader Prophet Ibrahim. The House that he had made pure for the worship of Allah alone, had been totally desecrated by the pagans and the rites which he had established were completely distorted by them. This sad state of affairs continued for nearly two and a half thousand years. But then after this long period, the time came for the supplication of Prophet Ibrahim to be answered:

"Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them your aayaat (verses) and instruct them in the book and the Wisdom and sanctify them. Verily you are the 'Azeezul-Hakeem [the All-Mighty, the All-Wise]." [ Surah Al-Baqarah 2:129 ]

Not only did the Prophet rid the Kaba of all its impurities, but he also reinstated all the rites of Hajj which were established by Allah's Permission, in the time of Prophet Ibrahim. Specific injunctions in the Quran were revealed in order to eliminate all the false rites which had become rampant in the pre-Islamic period. All indecent and shameful acts were strictly banned in Allah's statement:

"There is to be no lewdness nor wrangles during Hajj." [ Surah al-Baqarah 2:197 ]

Competitions among poets in the exaltations of their forefathers and their tribesmen's achievements were all stopped. Instead, Allah told them:

"And when you have completed your rites [of Hajj] then remember Allah as you remember your forefathers; nay with a more vigorous remembrance." [ Surah al-Baqarah 2:200 ]

Competitions in generosity were also prohibited. Of course, the feeding of the poor pilgrims was still encouraged as this was done during the time of Prophet Ibrahim but Allah commanded that the slaughtering of the animals which was done for this purpose should be done seeking the pleasure of Allah rather than fame and the praise of the people. He said:

"So mention the name of Allah over these animals when they are drawn up in lines. Then, when they are drawn on their sides [after the slaughter], eat thereof and feed the beggar who does not ask, and the beggar who asks." [ Surah al-Hajj 22:36 ]

As for the deplorable practice of spattering blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of the Kaba and hanging their flesh on alters, then Allah clearly informed them that:

"It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is Taqwaa (piety) from you that reaches Him." [ Surah al-Hajj 22:37 ] Advertisement googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display("div-gpt-ad-1493166219870-0"); })
"Say: Who has forbidden the adornment [i.e. clothes] given by Allah which He has produced for His Slaves?" [ Surah al-A'raaf 7:32 ]

Another custom which was prohibited through the Quran was that of setting off for Hajj without taking any provisions for the journey. In the pre-Islamic period, some people who claimed to be mutawakkiloon (those having complete trust in Allah) would travel to perform Hajj begging for food through the whole journey. They considered this form of behavior a sign of piety and an indication of how much faith they had in Allah. However Allah told mankind that to have sufficient provisions for the journey was one of the preconditions for making Hajj. He said:

"And take a provision [with you] for the journey, but the best provision is at-Taqwaa (piety)." [ Surah al-Baqarah 2:197 ]

1 Labbaik Allahumma labbaik... (Here I am present, O' God, I am present...) This is the chant which the pilgrims say when they are traveling for pilgrimage.

Source: Invitation to Islam, Issue 1, May 1997

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hajj travel history

Muslim pilgrims pray on their way up Noor Mountain in the holy city of Mecca before the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage, on November 23, 2009.

The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia has always been the spiritual center of the Islamic faith: the world's 1.3 billion Muslims genuflect in its direction during prayers. But in the final months of the year, Islam's holiest city becomes even more vital, as an estimated 2.5 million pilgrims make their once-in-a-lifetime journey to the site.

This pilgrimage, known as the Hajj, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (the others are the profession of Allah as the only God and Mohammed as his prophet; fasting during Ramadan; charitable giving and ritual prayer) by which every practicing Muslim must abide. This year, the Hajj starts Nov. 25; it takes place annually between the 8th and 12th days of Dhu-al-Hijjah, the final month of the lunar Islamic calendar, a time when God's spirit is believed to be closest to earth. ( See photos from the Hajj .)

The Hajj consists of a five-day excursion, required by all physically and financially able Muslims, to Mecca and the nearby holy sites of Arafat, Mina, and Muzdalifah. Once there, pilgrims perform a series of rituals to unify themselves with other believers, absolve themselves of their sins and pay tribute to God.

While the Hajj normally attracts pilgrims from all sects of Islam and all walks of life, concerns over swine flu have cast a shadow over this year's event; the prospect of millions of potential flu carriers mingling in Mecca has given health experts fits. Four early pilgrims have already died from the virus and Saudi officials have enacted a number of measures to combat the spread of the disease. Along with screening for flu-like symptoms at the Jeddah airport and distributing hygiene kits, health ministers have recommended that pregnant women, children and elderly worshipers stay home.

The origins of the Hajj date back to 2,000 B.C. when Ishmael, the infant son of the prophet Ibrahim (Or Abraham, as he is called in the Old Testament) and Ibrahim's wife Hager were stranded in the desert. With Ishmael close to death from thirst, Hager ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa looking for water until the angel Jibril (Gabriel) touched down to earth and created a spring of fresh water for the baby, known as the Well of Zemzem.

Following the orders of God, Ibrahim is said to have built a monument at the site of the spring known as the Kaaba. Worshipers from all faiths traveled to revel at the site; in 630 A.D., the Prophet Mohammed led a group of Muslims there in the first official Hajj, destroying the idols placed there by polytheistic worshipers and re-dedicating the site in the name of Allah. The path that Mohammed and his followers traveled is retraced as part of the Hajj rituals which include making Hager's walk between Safa and Marwa, stoning the wall of Satan that tempted Ibrahim to defy God, slaughtering an animal in honor of the sacrifice that Ibrahim made to save his son and climbing the Mount of Arafat from which Mohammed made his last sermon.

The ultimate rite of passage during the Hajj is circling the Kaaba, an immense black cube, spiritually considered by Muslims to be the center of the world, and literally located in the center of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca. During the Hajj, vast swells of worshippers seeking forgiveness circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise, seven times. Completion of all of the mandated rituals is believed the guarantee the pilgrim a place in heaven as well as the title of hajji (literally, one who has performed the Hajj) — coveted and admired in Muslim communities around the world.

Though only a fraction of Muslims are capable of making the pilgrimage, the huge crowds of worshipers that descend upon Mecca every year continually test the site's ability to accommodate their number. The Saudi Arabian government has spent billions to expand and improve the structure of the site, erecting tents to accommodate pilgrims and building multi-level pathways to eliminate congestion. Overcrowding and occasional stampedes have led to the deaths by trampling of thousands of worshippers over the years; most notably the 1990 incident where 1,426 people were crushed inside a tunnel connecting the Holy sites. While there is no way to know how hard the swine flu epidemic will hit worshipers this year, the tenacity of pilgrims has shown that there is little that can keep them away from this experience.

See TIME's Pictures of the Week .

A Visual History of the Hajj

1400 years of islamic pilgrimage from the khalili collections.

Conception : The Khalili Collections

The Masjid al-Haram (1966) The Khalili Collections

Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the sacred city of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Every year Muslims from around the world arrive in Saudi Arabia and perform a series of elaborate rites which take place during five days of Dh'l-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, Hajj begins with a visit to the Ka'bah and culminates on the Pain of Arafat a short distance away. Pilgrimage to Mecca is one of five Pillars of Islam and Muslims wherever they are must perform it at least once in their lifetimes, if they are able. 

Painting Entitled 'al-Rihlah al-Hijaziyyah/ Sacred Pilgrimage Journey' The Khalili Collections

Since the advent of Islam, Hajj has been one of the most remarkable religious gatherings in the world; although until recent times, one that has been largely unknown to the Western world. Non-Muslims have always been strictly forbidden entry to Mecca, so there has historically been little understanding of the deeper meaning of Hajj, its rituals and their spiritual and visual significance. Through Khalili Hajj Collection - the world's most comprehensive collection of its kind -  this exhibit tells a compelling visual story of the Hajj using some of the greatest artwork produced in the history of Islam. 

Hajj & the Arts of Pilgrimage | The Khalili Collections The Khalili Collections

‘Alexander the Great Visits the Ka‘bah’, Folio from a Copy of Firdawsi’s Shahnamah (mid-16th century) The Khalili Collections

"Alexander the Great visits the Ka'bah". A folio from a copy of Firdowsi's Shahnamah. Under the influence of translations into Arabic of the highly-fictionalised Greek Alexander romance, he was identified with the Qur’anic prophet Dhu’l-Qarnayn (‘he of the two horns’), with a universal mission to impose the monotheistic religion of Abraham. His journey to the Ka‘bah was the first of his world journeys, when he declared himself master of Arabia and destroyed those who had distorted its religious tradition.

Alexander is shown kneeling in prayer in front of the Ka‘bah, having removed his crown.

The Ka‘bah is draped in its black kiswah, with a gold-embroidered curtain and belt, its hem lifted to reveal the white lining – just as it is today during the Hajj.

Single Folio from a Qur'an Single Folio from a Qur'an (early 8th century AD) The Khalili Collections

What Abraham started, many centuries later Prophet Muhammad affirms and Muslims have been performing what we know as Hajj since 732 – the year of Prophet Muhammad’s death and his first and last officiating of Hajj rituals in what is called the Farewell Pilgrimage. This is a single Folio from a Qur’an, written probably in the Hijaz just decades after the death of the Prophet. The ink on vellum folio contains text from surah Hud (14-35), revealed in Mecca.

Statuette of a Camel (8th-9th century 隷) The Khalili Collections

The Journey

Before the 19th century and the modern age of travel, the pilgrims’ journey would have been long and perilous. Pilgrims from the Arab world would have joined great caravans, ‘cities on the move’ as Richard Burton described them, which set out from the main cities across the Islamic world and included pilgrims from much further afield. Three caravans are particularly well known: from Egypt, from Damascus and from Baghdad.

The caravan from Cairo which crossed the Sinai Peninsula ignited the imagination of so many European observers: “Seven thousand souls on foot, on horseback, in litters, or bestriding the splendid camels of Syria”, Burton observed.

A toy theatre depicting a Hajj caravan during a halt.

The flask (matara) was most probably used to collect water from Zamzam – the well inside the Meccan sanctuary – to take back to Sultan 'Abdulhamid II (reg. 1876–1909) in Istanbul.

Safi ibn Vali's Anis al-Hujjaj ('Pilgrims' Companion') The Khalili Collections

From early on Muslims were using sophisticated instruments to determine locations and directions for this journey. We know that pilgrim caravans travelling on foot would be accompanied by a Miqati who was responsible for announcing the hour when prayer was due en route. He had to indicate the correct orientation of Mecca also, so that the ritual prayer was conducted properly.

Photograph of the Procession of the Mahmal (1930s) The Khalili Collections

The Procession of the Mahmal

The Mahmal was the ceremonial palanquin carried on a camel who was the centrepiece of the pilgrim caravan. It was the symbol of authority of the sultan of the holy places. The first sultan to be associated with the sending of the Mahmal was Baybars (1260-77). Following the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, the Ottomans too sent the Mahmal from Damascus and on occasion so did the Yemenis. 

The origin is unclear: it may go back to the ancient Arab tradition of having a litter with a high-ranking lady accompanying military campaigns for encouragement. The Prophet's wife Aisha is said to have had such a role.

Hajj: The Mahmal The Khalili Collections

Venetia Porter is Curator of Islamic Art at the British Museum. Here, she spotlights the Mahmal during the 2012 blockbuster exhibition "Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam".

The Return of the Mahmal from Mecca to Cairo (1893) The Khalili Collections

A landmark minaret from the Al Azhar Mosque can be seen in the background.

The Mahmal would leave the city with great pomp and celebration; well-wishers would touch it to obtain blessings, whilst others would revel in the sight itself.

Longing for Mecca at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam The Khalili Collections

The Mahmal has been exhibited at landmark Hajj exhibitions worldwide, including at the British Museum, the Institut du Monde Arabe, and most recently the Tropenmuseum.

The mahmal did not remain in Mecca but was brought back to Cairo by the returning caravan.

Italian Mahmal The Khalili Collections

An impressionistic depiction of the procession of the Mahmal by Italian artist Gio Colucci (early 20th century).

Panoramic View of Mecca (circa 1845) The Khalili Collections

Arriving in Mecca, the sanctuary that God had commanded it to be through Abraham, must have been a shocking sight for early pilgrims, many of whom would never have seen depictions of the Ka'bah before. From written records we know that virtually all travellers who visited Mecca were deeply inspired by this place, and the city itself was depicted by various artists in different mediums. 

Talismanic Shirt with Depictions of the Two Holy Sanctuaries Talismanic Shirt with Depictions of the Two Holy Sanctuaries (16th or early 17th century) The Khalili Collections

Single-Volume Qur'an with Depictions of the Two Holy Sanctuaries Single-Volume Qur'an with Depictions of the Two Holy Sanctuaries (dated Shawwal 1211 (April 1797)) The Khalili Collections

A painted view of Mecca.

A painted view of Medina.

The view of Mecca is remarkable for its comprehensiveness and accuracy and, in the manner of contemporary topographers, brilliantly combines a plan of the city with a bird’s-eye view from about 60 degrees. It is the earliest known accurate eyewitness record of the city.

Structures that no longer exist in the vicinity of the Haram are depicted here in detail.

The mountains surrounding Mecca ('the barren valley') can be seen in the distance. Among them include Jabal-Nour, which houses the Cave of Hira, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have received the first revelation.

Mecca is depicted as a relatively green city, with trees, shrubs and grass.

Muhammad ‘Abdallah, whose grandfather, Mazar ‘Ali Khan was court painter to the Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah II, was commissioned by the Sharif of Mecca to depict the sacred monuments of his realm in the second quarter of the 19th century.

A Panorama of the Meccan Sanctuary and its Environs (dated 1297 AH (1880 AD)) The Khalili Collections

The advent of photography in the mid-19th century is of great importance to the history of the Hajj; for the first time the pilgrimage and the holy cities could be precisely and realistically documented.

The Ka'bah (dated 1297 AH (1880 AD)) The Khalili Collections

The Ka'bah

The structure of the Ka'bah is simple and at approximately eight meters square it is humble in size. is compares strangely to the architectural resplendence of other religious buildings; however, it is this very humility which calls into account the centuries of praise for its unparalleled dignity. For of course, the Ka'bah is not a temple like any other; it is the alignment of both the physicality and spirituality of Islam.

This relic contains dust swept from the floor of the Ka‘bah and compacted into two pear-shaped elements which are wrapped in coloured raffia. They would have been used as amulets in a religious building or home in the belief that they would convey blessings upon their owner and surroundings.

Section from the Kiswah of the Ka'bah (late 19th or early 20th century) The Khalili Collections

It was a custom before the advent of Islam that the Ka'bah would be dressed with a covering. Almost every year since, the Ka'bah has been dressed in the Kiswah during the Hajj season.

Curtain for Door of the Ka'bah (dated 1015 AH (1606 AD)) The Khalili Collections

By far the most elaborate part of the kiswah is the sitarah - the curtain covering the door of the Ka'bah. With Qur'anic verses playing the most prominent in its decoration, the sitarah was embroidered in gold and silver thread (occasionally wire) over padding, so they stood in relief.

The Arabic 'Allah' is embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire over cotton thread padding

The Arabic 'Muhammad' is embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire over cotton thread padding.

Since Mamluk times, sitarahs were made in Egypt, and left Cairo with the kiswah accompanied by the caravan of pilgrims amidst great pomp and circumstance.

The Sitara exhibited at "Longing for Mecca" at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam (2019-2020)

A complete kiswah for the Maqam Ibrahim, commissoned by Sultan Abdulmajid I and presented by Muhammad Sa‘id Pasha, the wali of Egypt. Cairo, dated ah 1272 (AD 1855–6)

Photograph of a Veteran Craftsman from Dar al-Kiswah (print possibly made in the 1940s from an older negative) The Khalili Collections

The majority of the Ka‘bah door curtains were made at Dar al-Kiswah in Cairo during the 19th century follow the same basic design in which calligraphic cartouches predominate and which is characterized by the series of stylized ‘palm trees’ either side of the door opening.

The Sufi Saint Mian Mir Praying at Medina (18th century) The Khalili Collections

Medina was the destination of the Prophet Muhammad's Hijrah (migration) from Mecca, and subsequently became the capital of a rapidly increasing Muslim Empire. Pilgrims aim from the beginning to combine their Hajj with a visit to Medina and the Prophet's mosque and tomb, either before or after performing the Hajj rituals in and around Mecca. 

The iconic Green Dome, initially built in 1279 over the Prophet's tomb, became an iconic landmark in artistic depictions of Medina over the years.

Miniature View of the Prophet's Mosque at Medina (mid-19th century) The Khalili Collections

Curtain (Sitarah) from the Tomb of the Prophet in Medina (period of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839)) The Khalili Collections

A hadith is embroidered at the top of the sitarah: "[the Prophet] peace be upon him said, he who visits my tomb has, by duty, my intercession".

The Pilgrims

Hajj is a great gathering of human beings. Dressed in their white ritual garments, the pilgrims stand shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe, equal before God, regardless of sect, race, gender, wealth or rank: this is Islam at its most harmonious and pure.

Historically, knowledge of the Hajj rituals has been made accessible to pilgrims through special manuals or guide books, generally known as Manasik, that explained the complicated but necessary steps which had to be performed in a specific order and at specific dates for the Hajj to be completed correctly.

Whether with a large caravan or as individuals, pilgrims have always arrived in Mecca from all corners of the Islamic world.

Pilgrims completing the ritual of collecting pebbles at Muzdalifa.

Pilgrims in the town of Mina, being shaven, making sacrifices and casting pebbles, as per the Hajj tradition.

The highlight of the Hajj has always been the worship of God at the Ka'bah. Before leaving Mecca, the pilgrims perform a final circumambulation of the Ka'bah called the 'farewell tawaf' seven times. After this tawaf, one's Hajj pilgrimage is considered complete.

A saying of the Prophet Muhammad states that was from the well of Zamzam is “beneficial for whatever aim it has been drunk for”, and many use the water for spiritual healing as well as in burial rites. Zamzam has been the source of water for pilgrims visiting Mecca ever since.

National Treasures Professor Nasser David Khalili UHD The Khalili Collections

Professor Nasser D. Khalili, Founder of the Khalili Collections, discusses a mid 19th century Chinese Hajj scroll in the Sky Arts documentary National Treasures (2017).

Hajj and The Arts of Pilgrimage 

The Khalili Hajj Collection, amassed over five decades, comprises over 4,000 unique objects relating to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. Together, they represent a comprehensive visual history of the Hajj spanning over 1400 years. The Collection has been fully conserved, researched and published, and the highlights have been exhibited at prestigious museums and institutions worldwide.  

All artworks shown in this exhibit are from The Khalili Collections. They are highlights from a collection of over 4,000 objects amassed over five decades relating to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. Video content: Mattmedia Productions (Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage) Collection Curator: Nahla Nasser Digital exhibit curated by Waqās Ahmed. A comprehensive lecture by Professor Nasser D Khalili on "Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage" delivered at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies can be found here: https://www.nasserdkhalili.com/portfolio/lecture-at-oxford-centre-for-islamic-studies-26-february-2020/

Hajj up Close

The khalili collections, japonisme rediscovered, provincial life under artaxerxes & alexander the great, the evolution of kimono.

‘Largest Hajj pilgrimage in history’ begins in Saudi Arabia

The number of pilgrims this year is expected to break records at more than 2.5 million.

Prospective pilgrims perform prayer at the Masjid al-Haram during their Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on June 23, 2023

The pilgrimage of Hajj has begun as crowds of Muslims donning white robes circle the Kaaba, the cubed structure at the epicentre of Islam’s holiest site, their prayers ringing through the air.

The annual pilgrimage began on Sunday in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with the tawaf, the circling of the Kaaba, in an event that is expected to break attendance records.

Keep reading

What is hajj a step-by-step guide to the muslim pilgrimage, photos: from war-torn northern syria to mecca for hajj, photos: war-injured syrians depart on sponsored hajj journey, the hajj is where spirituality, solidarity, and science intersect.

“This year, we will witness the largest Hajj pilgrimage in history,” said an official at the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

INTERACTIVE_WHEN_IS_EID_ALAZHA_AND_HAJJ_2023_7_thejourney step by step-1687150947

More than 2.5 million Muslims are expected to take part, as coronavirus pandemic restrictions in place since 2020 have been fully relaxed.

That year, just 10,000 people were permitted to participate; 59,000 in 2021; and last year there was a cap of one million people.

“I am living the most beautiful days of my life,” Abdelazim, a 65-year-old Egyptian who saved for 20 years to pay the $6000 cost he needed to attend, told the AFP news agency at the site.

On Sunday evening, the pilgrims will begin making their way to Mina, about 8km (5 miles) from Mecca’s al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, before they gather at Mount Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have delivered his final sermon.


This year’s Hajj is a challenge, taking place in the nearly 45-degree-Celsius heat, the date for the pilgrimage dependent on the lunar calendar.

Saudi authorities said more than 32,000 health workers and thousands of ambulances are on standby to treat cases of heatstroke, dehydration and exhaustion.

The Islamic ritual is obligatory for every able-bodied Muslim adult who has the financial means to take part, forming one of the five pillars of the religion.

The physically and emotionally challenging experience is meant to cleanse followers of sin and bring them closer to God.

This year, Hajj is held between June 26 and July 1, with the celebration of Eid al-Adha taking place on June 28.

While an expensive ritual, the journey of Hajj often inspires hope for many, even if they hail from parts of the world besieged by war, poverty or occupation. Many save what little money they have for years, to be able to afford it.

Four groups of pilgrims left Gaza last week. Meanwhile, pilgrims from northwestern Syria streamed through border crossings with Turkey. And Yemenis boarded the first direct flight to Saudi Arabia since 2016 for the pilgrimage.

The history of Hajj

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17th August 2017

The Hajj pilgrimage is such an important event in the life of a Muslim and the experience of Hajj stays with people for the rest of their days. But what is the history of Hajj and why is it so special?

Hajj and the Prophet Ibrahim (as)

Approximately four thousand years ago, the valley of Mecca was completely dry. No one lived amongst the sand dunes.

God told the Prophet Ibrahim (as) to bring his wife Hajira and son Isma’il to Arabia from Palestine. On instructions from Allah, Ibrahim left Hajira and Isma’il alone in the dessert with some food and water.

Their supplies quickly ran out and mother and son became dehydrated and very, very hungry. Hajira was desperate to find help, and she ran up and down the two hills of Safa and Marwa to try to spot someone in the distance. Exhausted, she lay down beside her son and prayed for deliverance.

An angel descended from heaven, and struck the ground with his wing. A spring of water burst forth and Hajira and Isma’il rejoiced. They had a water supply to drink from and use to trade with passing nomads. Now they could exchange water for food and other goods. When Ibrahim returned to check on his family, he was absolutely amazed to see them making money from a well.

The construction of the Kaaba

Allah told the Prophet Ibrahim to create a place of worship, dedicated to him at the site of the well. Father and son worked together to build a small stone building, named the Kaaba (or Kaabah). This new shrine was intended to be a sacred gathering place for all those who wanted to strengthen their faith in Allah.

After a few years had passed, Prophethood was also bestowed upon Ismail (as) (which means ‘upon him may be peace’). He spoke with the nomads of the desert and urged them to surrender to the will of Allah. The well that had saved Isma’il and Hajira was named Zam Zam, and thanks to it, Mecca became a busy and profitable city. The Prophet Ibrahim would come to Mecca every year to perform Hajj, and after his death, Isma’il carried on this tradition.

A time of darkness

As time went on, the people of Mecca began to believe in other gods and worship spirits. The shrine of the Prophet Ibrahim became a place of idols, and the Kaaba lost its purity.

Many years later, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received divine instructions from Allah. God wanted him to restore the Kaaba and rededicate it to the worship of Allah and Allah alone. In 628, Muhammad made the journey to Mecca with thousands of his followers. This is considered the first Islamic pilgrimage and it re-established the religious traditions started by the Prophet Ibrahim.

The Hajj experience today

Around 2.3 million people go on the Hajj pilgrimage every year. Muslims of all race, class and culture travel to Mecca and join together at the Kaaba to praise Allah. On Hajj, everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah, regardless of social status or ethnic background. The experience of Hajj is intensely spiritual and strengthens the bonds of Islamic brother and sisterhood.

Even if you’re not going on Hajj, the month of Hajj (Dhul Hijjah) is very special. It’s a time for prayer, fasting and self-reflection. The blessings of Allah are greatly multiplied in this month, so it’s a great time to give to charity. It’s also the time when Muslims make their Qurbani payments, allowing the poor and needy around the world to enjoy an Eid meal of Qurbani meat.

Human Appeal distributes Qurbani shares in 20 countries worldwide, and the sooner we receive your payment, the more likely it is that a vulnerable family will have meat in time for Eid ul-Adha.

Continue the legacy of Ibrahim (as) and donate your Qurbani today. 

Human Appeal

By Human Appeal

Manchester, United Kingdom


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