Images of the Hajj to Mecca Bringing a part of the pilgrimage home
Introduction This presentation is an exploration of the images of the Hajj to Mecca that have been created by pilgrims over several different centuries. The different forms of media as well as the most common symbols will be discussed. Although the visual representation of the Hajj has obviously changed over the years, there are overwhelming commonalities in character, tone, and purpose. The pictures and paintings in this presentation make it apparent that Hajjis today remember and commemorate their journeys much in the same way that pilgrims did centuries ago.
Here we see what is probably the oldest form of art relating to the Hajj. This is a leaf from Futuh al-Haramain (Description f the Two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina). Dating back to the 16 th century, this is one of several Ottoman leafs that give us a glimpse into early images of the Hajj. One of the most striking aspects of these pieces of art is the similarities they share with more modern representations of the Hajj.
Pictures of the Hajj can also be seen sprawled across houses, businesses, and other buildings throughout Egypt. Originally a rural tradition, Hajj painting has since migrated to the walls of town and city houses as country people move to urban areas. These are known as Hajji houses; they signify that a member of the household has completed his or her Hajj to Mecca. In addition to announcing the completion of the pilgrimage to others, Hajj paintings serve as constant reminders of the great journey to those who live there.
In recent years, a new media outlet through which Hajjis can share their experiences has developed—the internet. Photo albums and movies of the Hajj can be found on personal websites, connective groups like “Facebook,” and even on “YouTube.” These representations of the Hajj seem to be much in the same spirit as the house paintings in Egypt. They are announcements to others that one has completed the journey as well as sentimental personal reminders of the experience. The man on the right has a personal website, on which he shares this description of his Hajj photo album: “The trip of a lifetime…to complete my Fifth Pillar! A photo-excursion to Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. A glorious and unforgettable 14 day Umra and Hajj Journey.” Several of his own captions have been included in this presentation in order to show his personal account of the experience.
The Journey From camels to trains, carriages to cars, and boats to planes, the transportation, like the media through which Hajjis represent their experiences, has changed over the years in response to the available technology. As the journey is often deemed almost (if not just as) important as the destination itself, transportation is a common theme in pictures of the Hajj. In this Hajji wall painting, we can see a camel, a boat, and a train. Here, the journey is obviously an important focus.
Years ago, camels were the most common form of transportation, and they often made the trek from Nile villages to Saudi Arabia. Today, a camel owner in Egypt might use his camel for the short trip between his home and the railroad station. This Hajji painting from Egypt depicts a man balancing his luggage on a camel, preparing for his departure on the Hajj.
This woman, whose ornate veil displays her family’s wealth, sits under a painting commemorating her 1980 Hajj to Mecca. The painting focuses on her passage of the Red Sea by boat. The giant fish gives the painting quite a unique quality, again stressing her adventure over the water, which was perhaps one of the most memorable experiences for her.
This wall painting, the commemoration of a Hajj taken during the 1970s, reflects on life in Egypt during that time. The marching soldiers are prominently displayed, though the flowers at the bottom contrast their harsh presence. We saw earlier that modern Hajjis might ride on a camel to the railroad station; in some of the larger towns in upper Egypt, the journey commences with a carriage ride to the railroad station.
Recently, the airplane has become a common and powerful symbol of the Hajj. On many Egyptian houses, the two most prominently displayed objects are the Kaabah and a plane.
Here again we see the prominence of transportation in Hajji paintings. In the upper left, an airplane is displayed while in the lower right, a ship and the Kaabah are the most noticeable features.
Even in more modern representations of the Hajj, the theme of transportation is still present. This picture, included on a personal website, shows the incredible importance of the journey itself, as the pilgrim takes a moment to snap a photo looking out the window at the shadow of the airplane as it takes off.
Cars have also become valuable tools in making the Hajj. Here, Hajjis have taken pictures of road signs and tunnels around Mecca. It is interesting that even the road signs themselves contain pictorial representations of the Hajj: we see the tents at Arafat, the Kaabah, a stone being thrown at the Devil, and even a pair of scissors to point the way to the Barber.
“ I’m Back!!” The pilgrims’ homecoming is another important part of the journey that is not to be forgotten. “As Egyptian pilgrims start the last leg of their homeward journey, a mood of jubilation reigns throughout the land…celebrants on horseback hold Hajj banners high above their heads as they gallop back and forth along dusty roads to the accompaniment of firearms being discharged into the air” (Parker and Neal). In the painting on the right, the banner reads “There is only one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet.” The picture on the left shows a “Welcome Back” cake made by the pilgrim’s family. His caption reads “I’m Back!!”
The Kaabah The Kaabah is no doubt the most important and popular symbol of the entire journey. Its importance is impossible to miss, as it is displayed prominently in countless Hajji paintings.
This is another Ottoman leaf dating back to the sixteenth century. The Kaabah is right at the center of the leaf, emphasizing its importance as the physical center of Islam. Obviously, even in the sixteenth century, the Kaabah was the central symbol of the Hajj.
Here again, the Kaabah is featured. This Hajj painting depicts the Kaabah inside of the Haram, surrounded by countless praying pilgrims. Another significant trait of this painting is the fact that it is signed by the artist. Most Hajj paintings do not include a signature, as everyone in the village normally knows who the artist is.
The Kaabah is the central image in this painting as well. Here it sits under the crescent moon and star, another symbol closely associated with Islam. “In narrow village byways, Hajj paintings are often surreptitiously revelealed behind protective compound walls” (Parker and Neal).
This painting depicts a Hajji kneeling on a beautiful prayer rug, appearing at peace. The Kaabah is surrounded by a very geometric representation of Mecca’s Great Mosque. The birds perched on the walls and minarets add to the theme of peace and tranquility that can be seen in the kneeling Hajji.
This photograph captures the movement that paintings often cannot. It shows the blurry motion of countless Hajjis circumambulating the Kaabah, which is again the central symbol of this picture.
In larger towns and cities, Hajj paintings are often reduced in size and complexity and must compete for attention with advertising on surrounding shop fronts. Still, the Kaabah and the minarets of the Great Mosque are what jump out at the viewer even with the other distractions.
Mount Arafat Though definitely not as common a symbol as the Kaabah or Medina, depictions of Mount Arafat can often be found in representations of the Hajj. This Ottoman leaf, which, according to British Image Library Online dates back to the 17 th century, shows the tents of pilgrims during the standing at Mount Arafat. On the eighth day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, all those taking part in the Hajj make their way from Mecca to the Plain of Arafat. If the prospective Hajji does not arrive at Arafat by noon on the 9 th day, his Hajj will no longer count toward his fifth pillar.
This painting, from a Hajji house in the village of Silwa Bahari, depicts the standing at Mount Arafat, where Mohammed preached his last sermon.
“ Looking towards Jebel Arafat” This picture, with Mount Arafat in the distance, shows the importance of the sacred plain of Arafat in a different way. Although the pilgrim is far away from the destination, he has stopped to take a picture looking in the direction of Mount Arafat.
The State of Ihram At a certain predetermined point during the journey, the pilgrim must enter what is known as the “state of Ihram.” This involves a ritualistic cleansing of the body. After the purifying rites, the pilgrim can don his or her sacred garb. On the right in this picture, the pilgrim is in the state of Ihram, wearing the standard two pieces of white cloth. He also has a dove on his shoulder, another symbol of purity.
The woman here is wearing her everyday dark clothing, in stark contrast to the white clothing that is worn by all pilgrims surrounding the Kaabah and in front of the mosque in Medina in her wall painting.
There are probably thousands of pilgrims in this picture, dressed in their sacred white clothing. It is unclear where the pilgrims are at this point, perhaps they are making their crowded way to the stoning of the devil, an event during the pilgrimage that has proven deadly in past years.
The Haram The Haram is not represented nearly as often as the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina—at least not in its entirety. We have already seen parts of the walls or the minarets of the Haram in conjunction with images of the Kaabah. However, especially in modern representations of the Hajj, it has become more common to take pictures outside the mosque, especially since pilgrims are not allowed to bring cameras inside. “ Me and a friend at the Haram”
The Sacrifice This painting depicts Gabriel appearing to Abraham just as he is about to sacrifice his son Ishmael, who sits blindfolded on the altar he has helped to prepare. Gabriel brings Abraham the message from God that the ram should be sacrificed rather than his son. In memory of this, Hajjis sacrifice sheep at the end of their pilgrimage.
Sometimes, for practical reasons as well as religious sentiment, Hajj paintings will combine the occupation of the Hajji with the memory of his or her journey. This painting commemorates the 1988 pilgrimage of a Butcher, and shows him at work preparing a lamb.
Medina The Prophet’s Mosque in Medina is another very popular symbol. Its easily recognizable green dome is probably second only to the Kaabah in its representation in Hajj paintings. This picture is a panorama of the entire mosque, displayed on a personal website.
Although a visit to Medina is not mandatory for the completion of the Hajj, many pilgrims venture to the city to visit the Prophet’s Mosque and spend quiet time near Mohammed’s tomb. The inscription here reads “Whoever visits my tomb will be protected.
In both of these paintings, the bright green dome of the Prophet’s Mosque jumps out at the viewer, showing that the Hajji visited Medina in addition to performing his Hajj.
The Hajji house painter who worked on this house is known for his imaginative murals that are reminiscent of the Swiss artist Paul Klee. He depicts a fascinating procession toward Mohammed’s tomb in the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina that includes an attack on the Mahmal, which formerly carried the Kiswah, a flying crocodile that is reminiscent of ancient superstitious practices, and a blessing for the pilgrimage written in Arabic.
The days at the Prophet’s Mosque mostly include prayer and quiet meditation. This painting depicts the sacred mosque along with a Pilgrim kneeling and reading on an ornate prayer rug. The next eight pictures, along with the captions written by the Hajji on whose website they are displayed, will be self-explanatory in their depiction of Medina and the Prophet’s Mosque.
“ Majestic Mosque of the Prophet of Islam (SAW)” A tribute to the seal of the Prophets A wonderful place to be The Green Dome. The burial of Mohamed (SAW), Abu-bakr (RAA) and Umar (RAA).
Another beautiful entrance Me at the Green Dome Medina, from the hotel room On the way to Medina
Conclusion We have seen in this presentation that images of the Hajj have remained constant over the centuries. From Ottoman artwork to personal websites on the internet, many different images of the Hajj are actually incredibly similar. The next few pictures are some of the most beautiful house paintings that bring together many of the different symbols discussed earlier.
If you look closely, you will see that this Hajj painting includes transportation—the camel and the airplane, a homecoming—the gallant horse and rider, the Kaabah, the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, and a prayerful Hajji in the state of Ihram.
The picture of this house was taken only days after its completion, and its colors are obviously very vibrant. Several different images of the Hajj can be seen here along with an added floral motif that is a signature of this Hajj painter—El Araby.
Paintings in the town of Isna are known for their modern styling, color combinations, and geometric designs. It is no surprise, then, that one of the most renowned painters in this area points to Picasso as one of his greatest influences. Above the pilgrim shown here, it is declared “I am going on the Hajj, the Umrah.”
“ The power of existence” This picture is probably, at least at face value, the simplest photograph included in the presentation. The caption, though, testifies to the changing power of the journey, perhaps one reason why Hajjis are sure to commemorate their pilgrimage upon returning home.
<ul><li>British Library Images Online: http://www.imagesonline.bl.uk/britishlibrary/ </li></ul><ul><li>(Photo 27) </li></ul><ul><li>2. “Hajj 2006 Trip,” a photo album from this personal website: http://www.pbase.com/gomaa/hajj_2006_trip </li></ul><ul><li>(Photos 6, 14, 16-18, 29, 32, 34, 37, 43-50, 55) </li></ul><ul><li>3. Parker, Ann and Neal, Avon. Hajj Paintings: Folk Art of the Great Pilgrimage. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. </li></ul><ul><li>(Photos 1-2, 4, 7-11, 19, 22-24, 26, 28, 30-31, 35-36, 38, 41-42, 51-54) </li></ul><ul><li>4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org . </li></ul><ul><li>Copyright 2000-2007. </li></ul><ul><li>(Photos 3, 21) </li></ul><ul><li>Courtesy of Martyn Smith </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(Photos 12-13, 20, 39-40, 56) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Facebook.com </li></ul><ul><ul><li> (Photos 5, 15, 25, 33) </li></ul></ul>Sources