Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Let’s go to the Hajj!

British Museum: The Hajj

While I was in London last week, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and I went with a group of people to see “Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam”, a feature exhibit that runs until April 15 at the British Museum.

Before the visitor buys his ticket and enters the inner sanctum, he is given a foretaste of the Hajj with this “installation” by Idris Khan in the atrium of the museum:

Hajj cubes

Which is made up of lots of these:

Hajj cube

If that whets your appetite sufficiently, you’ll want to buy a ticket and enter the exhibit itself.

Hajj bannerDespite paying £12 to see the Hajj material, we discovered that visitors were not allowed to take photographs. I was sure the museum’s website would have more, but when I got home and took a look, there wasn’t much available.

And, truth be told, there wasn’t really that much to the exhibit. The sitara — the curtain for the door of the Ka’aba, on loan from King Abdul Aziz Public Library in Saudi Arabia — was the prize artifact, and it was impressive indeed. There were numerous other beautiful objects on display, plus a lot of calligraphy, descriptive texts, photos, drawings, engravings, etc.

We saw plenty of images of devotees circling the black cube (counterclockwise) or kneeling to pray, but no contemporaneous materials from the 7th or 8th century. There was no ground plan from the original Mecca as determined by archaeological excavation, nor any artifacts dug up at the site. There’s good reason for that, of course, since no archaeological activity is allowed at any of Islam’s holy sites.

The Ka'aba #3

This makes the Hajj exhibit a rather paltry affair in comparison with, say, the magnificent Egyptian and Assyrian galleries at the British Museum. It’s all hype and puffery and public relations, an expensive and elaborate sales campaign bankrolled by the Saudis and designed to supplant the beating heart of Western culture with the austere emptiness of Islam.

Or, as Elisabeth said when we walked through the door, “This is da’wa!”

I asked her to write her impressions of the exhibit, and this is what she had to say:

It is not usually my style to spend a whopping twelve pounds Sterling of my hard-earned money in order to visit the British Museum’s special exhibition on the Hajj, especially in view of the fact that my knowledge exceeds that of most non-Muslims (I actually venture to say that I know more than most Muslims). The reason I decided to enter the tomb that represents Islam is simply to see what the exhibition organizers were able to make out of nothing.

The Ka'aba #1

For example, how can one claim to show the history behind the Hajj when there is no historical evidence of Islam on the Arabian peninsula? And so there was very little to show about the Hajj except copies of the Koran, hajjis’ reports about the Hajj, intricately stitched prayer carpets, and movies about the experiences of those who completed the Hajj. As expected, it wasn’t much, because there isn’t much.

What I did notice, however, was not only the high number of non-Muslims who walked through the exhibition, but also the many school classes. Most of them were made up of very young children, many of whom were eight- or nine-year-old girls in hijab.

Looking at them, I felt my heart ache. No one can tell me that these girls willingly donned the hijab and the long dresses when they entered school. What galls me even more is that by covering up, these girls are being sexualized, for this is what the hijab tells us, the non-Muslims: “Do not touch these girls, they belong to us. They are our property.” As soon as a girl reaches puberty — which according to Islamic tradition is when Mohammed married Aisha and consummated the marriage — she is seen as marriageable.

As I wandered through the exhibition, I had the sensation of walking through a tomb that is called Islam. Everything exuded gloominess, as gloomy as the faces of many devout Muslims walking in the streets.

One can imagine how refreshed I felt upon returning to the — as yet — non-Muslim world, to the sunshine, to relative freedom.

Before we delve any further into the surrounding issues, let’s take a look at what the British Museum has to say about its glitzy da’wa extravaganza:
One of the five pillars of Islam central to Muslim belief, Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must make at least once in their [sic] lifetime if they are able. This major exhibition charts the history of this deeply personal journey.

The Hajj: Exhibition book

Examining the extraordinary travel logistics involved and how the wider operation of the event has changed over time, the exhibition compares how pilgrims over the centuries negotiated this often monumental undertaking and how it continues to be experienced by people from all corners of the globe today.

Beautiful objects, including historical and contemporary art, textiles and manuscripts, bring to life the profound spiritual significance of the sacred rituals that have remained unchanged since the Prophet Muhammad’s time in the 7th century AD.

This is an accurate description, as far as it goes. But Neil MacGregor, the director of British Museum, explains the real point of the exercise:

This exhibition will enable a global audience to deepen their understanding of the significance and history of the Hajj. In particular, it will allow non-Muslims to explore the one aspect of Islamic practice and faith which they are not able to witness, but which plays such a major part in forming a worldwide Islamic consciousness.

That is, the Hajj exhibit is designed to accustom non-Muslims to Islam by presenting them with images and stories which they will find palatable, and even uplifting.

That’s what makes it da’wa.

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Visitors to the British Museum who have no knowledge of Islam are presented with pictures of pilgrims in shining white robes who display their devotion to Allah through their journey to Mecca. Their religious practices seem austere, yet somehow beautiful and inspiring, images to lift up the souls of the faithful.

That’s what the infidel is allowed to see in the British Museum. However, as we all know, there is a lot more to Islam. For a starter, there’s this:

Moslems Only

Non-Muslims are not welcome in Mecca. In fact, the Hajj exhibit acknowledges this fact by reproducing in a work of art the famous traffic sign in Saudi Arabia that directs non-Muslims away from the road to the holy shrines.

Why is this all right with the British Museum? How would the esteemed intellects on its board of directors feel if an exhibit about the Vatican featured a sign that said “Non-Christians Not Allowed”?

Well, we all know the answer to that. And we also know that Islam is special. It gets a free pass for its exclusion, for its discrimination, for its intolerance of the infidel. Its special status also grants it permission to conceal a lot of truths about itself, truths that might awaken resistance among the former Christians it is colonizing, if only they were aware of them.

The violence and brutality of Islam are not only endemic to it, they are canonical — they are written up in its core texts for anyone to see, and have been there since its founding in the 7th century.

As Emmet Scott writes in Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited (pp. 240-241):

We have found that in the years after 600 classical civilization, which was by then synonymous with Christendom, came into contact with a new force, one that extolled war as a sacred duty, sanctioned the enslavement and killing of non-believers as a religious obligation, sanctioned the judicial use of torture, and provided for the execution of apostates and heretics. All of these attitudes, which, taken together, are surely unique in the religious traditions of mankind, can be traced to the very beginnings of that faith. Far from being manifestations of a degenerate phase of Islam, all of them go back to the founder of the faith himself. Yet, astonishingly enough, this is a religion and an ideology which is still extolled by academics and artists as enlightened and tolerant. Indeed, to this day, there exists a large body of opinion, throughout the Western World, which sees Islam as in every way superior to, and more enlightened than, Christianity.

You will see none of these unpleasant truths in the Hajj exhibit. The “journey to the heart of Islam” is a journey into only those things that Islam wants non-Muslims to see.

Nothing about slavery, or violence against women, or cousin marriage, or the cutting off of infidel heads, or female genital mutilation, or the death penalty for heretics and apostates.

The Ka'aba #2

None of that. Just the shining white robes, the pure hearts of the faithful, and the enormous crowd circling the black cube in the center of Mecca.

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Close by the exit from the Heart of Darkness was a guest book in which visitors were invited to leave their impressions and comments. Elisabeth pointed to it and said, “Hey — are you going to speak out there? Maybe tell the truth?”

I replied, “I dunno… they’ve got CCTV all over the place here. I’m not sure this is a good time to go on the record.”

But I couldn’t resist the siren song of that book, so I made a tactical decision to use deep irony — to maintain an absolute deadpan. As nearly as I can recall, this is what I wrote:

Many thanks for this most excellent da’wa. The Princes of the House of Saud are to be commended for their zeal in funding this devotional exhibit. May it bring the Light of the True Faith to the hearts of the non-believers of Britain!

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After we left the exhibit we went to the gift shop, which was well-stocked with Hajj paraphernalia and bric-a-brac.

Hajj gifts #1

Plenty of books were available for readers who were curious about Islam.

Hajj books

There hadn’t been too many visibly enriched visitors in the exhibit itself, but there were quite a few spending their money in the shopping zone.

Hajj gifts #2

We found this, a book written by a well-to-do Englishwoman who must have been a convert to the pure faith:

'Pilgrimage to Mecca' by Lady Evelyn Cobbold

Interestingly enough, “Cobbold” is apparently a variant spelling of the modern German word kobold, which is related to both “cobalt” and “goblin”, and whose Common Germanic root meant “demon of the mine”.

Finally, consider the ironic juxtaposition of images in this photo:

Hajj gifts #3

If Oscar had ever found his way to Jeddah, they’d have toppled a wall on him. It would have made Reading Gaol seem like an afternoon at Wimbledon.

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As Elisabeth mentioned above, the Hajj exhibit has a dark and lugubrious air about it. I’ve had about as much gloom as I can take, so we’ll finish up on a lighter note with the Vlad Tepes/KGS production that inspired the title for this post:


Anonymous said...

What a disgrace! The world's going to hell in a handbasket.

Anonymous said...

Why spend twelve quid when you can spend half an hour on youtube? There are videos there shot from inside the kaaba, so you get a much better view from the ground.

(nilk who can't remember any of my passwords today!)

Qualis Rex said...

An excellent commentary. I would never spend money on any Hajj exhibit, but I thank you for confirming what I would have expected. An expansion on the author's observation: for the last 40 years the Wahabbist movement of KSA has sought to systematicaly demolish all historic landmarks of Mohammedanism. They have claimed it is because of Shi'ites who worship these artifacts and want to prevent it. The reality is, they are deathly afraid of archeology (and science...but that's another topic). Why? Because places and events that they accept as fact simply did not exist or take place (at least not the way they teach it). They know this, and by erasing all traces of earlier monuments, there is nothing to study or disprove. We just have to take their word at it.

An aside: the Assyrian wing of the BNM is astounding. I always spend the bulk of my time there in awe every time I visit.

Anonymous said...

Nice finishing touch.

Vlad Tepesblog said...


Kirk Parker said...

12 pounds? Burton's method was more sportsmanlike! ;-)

Anonymous said...

The Hajj was performed by the pagan Arabs centuries before Muhammad was born. It's origins are not from Islam at all.

Circumabulating the Kaaba, kissing the black stone, the seamless white tunic, shaving the head, all were pagan rituals, kept by Muhammad to make easy for the pagans to accept his new religion.

Salome said...

Dr Pusey wrote about the Assyrian exhibits at the BM in his book on the Prophet Daniel. I expect they would have been quite new then (mid-19th century), and can imagine him making the trek from Oxford to London and then feeling moved to include a description in his lectures to encourage his students to do likewise. Ah! The days of such gentle erudition would appear to be largely behind us. We can only do our little bit to keep some of the memory alive.

an EDL buck said...

Oh Vlad, you scallywag!

Salome said...

Did they have little plastic black cubes in the shop?

Anonymous said...

I'm a student at SOAS and went to this because a professor recommended it to the class. I felt kind of gypped, like you did; it really did seem to give a prominent place to Westerners who drank the kool-aid, I mean, "reverted" to Islam in an attempt to say: See, these Victorian luminaries accepted Islam, you should too! I was astounded they had a piece on Sir Richard Burton though. The Buginese manuscript was pretty cool as well.

u.l. said...

That installation of black cubes resembles gravestones at a cemetry. How very fitting indeed for the religion of death.

Kirk Parker said...

Anon @ 11: say more--what astounded you about the Burton piece?

Juniper in the Desert said...

As Anonymous wrote, the izlamic predecessors were not mozlems but Hindus, which I believe is anathema for them to admit. Nothing was supposed to exist before izlame.
This Idris Khan is a half pakistani mozlem who is married to a wealthy Jewess, also an 'artist' - of clothes pegs. I am sure G will know.
And I thought the boxes were Cubist dog poos!!

Anonymous said...

Not to be outdone, the Louvre is creating a 4,600 square meter Islamic art wing set to open in September 2012.

Quote from digital jounal article:

President of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, said
"The new exhibition will remind the French and the world of the essential contribution of Islamic civilisation and culture"

The Louvre is also opening another "branch" in Abu Dhabi, UAE called Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Quote from Wikipedia:
French President Jacques Chirac praised the museum deal with Abu Dhabi, saying it reflects "a certain idea of the world" in which each party to the accord, "proud of its roots and of its identity, is conscious of the equal dignity of all cultures."


Anonymous said...

We don't need to see the inside of
the holiest place of an ideology
that is unworkable, uncivilized and
totally nasty. What we do need is to find a way to get Islam out of Europe and eventually off the planet.The nicest thing you could say about Islam is that it is a mental condition.Don't forget it is at permanent war with us, so don't get so cozy with it.

Anonymous said...

"One can imagine how refreshed I felt upon returning to the — as yet — non-Muslim world, to the sunshine, to relative freedom."

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London. I'll show you something, to make you change your mind.


Pennswoods said...

I've got bad news for Muslim imams, mullah, and Jihadists. The whole world can all see the "holiest of holies" the Kaaba in Mecca in the comfort of our infidel homes sitting at our computers by going to Google Maps and simply typing Mecca, Saudi, Arabia. We infidels can explore this dreary city and zero in on the Kaabla. We are watching you Fatima!

Anonymous said...

@ Kirk Parker
Anon 11 here. What I guess astounded me, was that the Saudis mentioned him at all. They even included the famous quote about him feeling pride among the hajjis at having triumphed and kissed al-Hajar al-Aswad. I always assumed, I guess, that most Muslims would think of Sir Burton as an arch-villain.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear...quite a few ignorant remarks in this article e.g. Female circumcision - this is just a barbaric cultural practice and not from Islam. Violence against women? Are you kidding me? Again just a societal problem just like every other country in the world. Non Muslims allowed in Mecca? Every country has its conditions which you have to abide by whether you agree with it or not e.g. France = no hijab in school. No burkhas anywhere!! This is just another condition i.e. the belief in One God and that the Prophet Muhammad (s) was his Messenger. I have a dinner party to attend so I can't list all the other errors. My advice...read a book on Islam. My email address hira_rayyaan@hotmail.com.

Anonymous said...

The Saudis have worked assiduously to WRONGLY convince the world of the lie that female genital MUTILATION is a problem of backward African people rather than the truth that female genital MUTILATION is an absolute REQUIREMENT of Islam for the vast majority of Muslim GIRLS living in Muslim countries ruled by barbaric Sharia Law.

Violence against women is condoned and sanctified by the example of Satanic Mohammed as Islam's ideal man, various writings of Islam, and interpretations of Islam by imams past, present, and future.

As you WELL know, evil Islam is a supremacist totalitarian political and religious system that falsely elevates Muslim men above Muslim women and Muslims above non-Muslim men and women. Mecca is just one more example of that supremacism.