Monday, November 23, 2009

Journey of Faith - En Route to Mecca

The pilgrimage to Mecca has a deeper meaning than just fulfilling the Pillar of Islam. This spiritual and physical journey taken by Muslims on a global scale, for the past 1,400 years, is documented in an exhibition currently showcasing at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

The twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar marks an event of the greatest significance. It is an annual convention of faith that brings Muslims from different parts of the globe together to the holiest site in Arabia for a single purpose: to carry out the duty of Haj. Unlike other journeys, the Haj is a sacred undertaking that takes participants to Mecca to perform clearly defined rites and rituals at the appointed time. It demands physical and mental strength as well as the sacrifice of time and money.

Nothing embodies the universal nature of Islam better than the Haj. Pilgrims converge from every corner of the earth. And these days, they are accompanied by media coverage from around the world. The gathering of three million worshippers is an impressive spectacle, as well being an exclusive occasion.

Being restricted solely to Muslims adds another dimension of interest for a world that wishes to learn more about Islam. The Haj is Islam in microcosm: an assembly in which rank and riches are of less concern than a sense of community. Although the Haj is often referred to as the “journey of a lifetime”, there is remarkably little attention given to the pilgrims’ means of travel. The exhibition at the Islamic Museum En Route to Mecca: Pilgrims’ Voices throughout the Centuries focuses on the sense of anticipation and adventure that the faithful have always encountered on their way of fulfilling this Pillar of Islam. In an age of comparatively painless jet travel, the hardships have been reduced. Also gone is the time when a pilgrimage might be numbered in years rather than days. The objective and rituals have remained the same for more than 1400 years, but the means of achieving these has been altered beyond recognition.

En Route to Mecca: Pilgrims’ Voices throughout the Centuries provides an overview of the journey as well as the destination, weaving in all the elements that make the Haj so remarkable. In addition to providing a glimpse of the holy land of Mecca and its environs, the exhibition dwells on the role played by the Prophet Ibrahim and his family. The Farewell Haj performed by the Prophet Muhammed, is also central to the story.

Since that time, the faithful have unfailingly retraced the footage of the prophets.

Besides the act of worship, the Haj shows the beauty of Islam. This is not only in the relationship between worshippers and their creator but also in the relationship between human beings and other creations. Reflections of this journey are not only apparent in pilgrims’ thoughts and actions but are also visible in works of art. Some are representations of the Majid al-Haram, or objects used to adorn this and other monuments; others are items of utility, such as elegant water flasks.

The Haj journey does not end at Mecca. It continues until the pilgrims return to their different homelands. Being the guest of God in His sacred house is the aspiration of every Muslim. It is a route full of sincerity, determination and continuous commitment, as well as beauty.

En Route to Mecca: Pilgrims’ Voices throughout the Centuries at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is on until Jan 22, 2010.

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