British Museum blog

Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina

Earlier this month, Altaf and Rashida went on Hajj.
Here, they recount some of the stages of Hajj.

Altaf Abbas

Arafat is a flat valley surrounded by mountains of rocky terrain – a dry and barren the place where Muslim’s believe mankind will be gathered on the day of judgement. After our first failed attempt to see the Mount of Mercy where the Prophet Mohammed had given his last sermon, I left my wife in the tent and went out again. I walked for about a mile, climbed through a hole in a chain link fence, crossed a wide empty motorway and then climbed up a short steep hill not knowing where I was going…and there in front of me was the most beautiful site. I was looking down on the Mount of Mercy where millions of pilgrims were standing and praying. It was awe-inspiring.

Everybody was facing towards the ka’ba and standing with raised hands praying and crying, it was deeply moving. Even though three million people were with us, it felt like I was alone in worship. I felt good after shedding a few tears.

Rashida Abbas
We arrived at Arafat on the morning of 5 November, it was very hot and no air conditioned tents this time. We had to pour chilled water on ourselves to keep cool. The whole afternoon was spent doing supplication and prayers. We went out to search for the Mount of Mercy but due to the heat had to turn back and take refuge in ‘The Tea Garden’ which was a large airy tent. Everyone was totally engrossed in prayer and oblivious to others around them. The focus was on prayer, a very spiritual afternoon which I enjoyed and felt benefited my soul with spiritual healing.

Altaf Abbas
After Magrib prayers (sunset) we boarded the coaches once to go to Muzdalifah to spend the night out in the open. Twenty of us decided to walk the seven kilometres to Muzdalifah and meet up with our group in the open air camp, which turned out to be an adventure. The walk started of very pleasant along with hundreds of thousands of other people along pedestrian walkway No.15, which is as wide as the M25 motorway. After four hours of walking, just before we entered Muzdalifa, people started setting up camp on the walkway which caused a bottle neck and our group of 20 got dispersed into the crowd of millions. I tried in vain to look for the group and our organised camp but to no avail, so I spent the night with thousands of total strangers on the pavement. I found a small spot next to some railings, put my prayer mat down and went to sleep using my slippers as a pillow. Although there were millions of people, coaches and buses going past, I slept for a couple of hours. It was the sweetest sleep I have ever had, there was a tranquillity that blanketed all the chaos around me. It is hard to explain in words but it felt like I was by myself – lost but had inner peace and was at ease.

Rashida Abbas
Muzdalifah was not what I expected. We slept on open ground in between the motorway and mountains. Coaches were arriving well into the night constantly bringing pilgrims. As the coaches arrived they would beep their horns to announce their arrival – thousands of coaches! It was a strange experience trying to sleep out in the open under these conditions. There were strangers sleeping next to us from all over the world. I managed to snatch a few hours of broken sleep whenever I could. Before long, the call to prayer was announced.Everybody woke up did ablution and stood for prayer in neat orderly rows facing the ka’ba. Which is amazing to see, the rows formed so swiftly and then total silence as the prayers started in Arabic. I don’t think you will see this anywhere else in the world. The supplication continued until sunrise about an hour later, Muslims deep in worship of one God. I walked back to Mina, our permanent camp, in the early morning sun which took about two hours. It was a calm atmosphere with pleasant weather and a gentle breeze, I really enjoyed it.

Altaf Abbas

The next three nights were spent in Mina, a temporary tented city. On the first day when the rest of the Muslim world was celebrating Eid (I did think about our children spending Eid with their Grandma and Aunt in London), we had four religious rituals to carry out:

1. Stoning of Jamaraat (symbolic devil)
2. Shaving the head
3. Sacrifice of animal, usually a goat or a lamb
4. Tawaf – to circumambulate the ka’ba

In the afternoon, we left on foot to go to the Jamaraat with our group. Even though I had heard about this ritual many times, it was different to what I expected. I had heard that this place gets really busy, however I was amazed to see a modern building resembling a multi-storey car park with wide ramped access, traffic lights, one way systems and electronic signage which made it very easy for us to perform the stoning. The ancient symbolic stoning of the devil represents the moment when the Prophet Abraham was being distracted by the devil when commanded by Allah to sacrifice his most beloved possession; his only child. We threw seven small pebbles the size of chick peas – which are collected from Mina – at three walls, each one 30 metres long and 6 metres high.

After the stoning we walked back to Mina. I had to shave my hair, have a shower and change out of my ihram and into clean normal clothes. I felt pure and cleansed.

The sacrifice of a goat was carried out remotely in a modern abattoir which has the meat cut, packed and shipped to third world countries to help feed the poor.

I’ll talk about the tawaf in my next post…

Altaf and Rashida Abbas went on Hajj this year and have been blogging about the experience for the British Museum. Find out more about the exhibition Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam

Filed under: Exhibitions, Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam

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#todayimet goddess of love, Aphrodite. In this statue the voluptuous Aphrodite crouches down at her bath and turns her head sharply to her right, as if surprised by her audience. This Roman copy from the 2nd century AD is based on an original sculpture from Hellenistic Greece. This statue is lent to the British Museum by Her Majesty the Queen.
You can fall for the goddess of love in Room 23, one of our Greek and Roman sculpture galleries.
We’re celebrating @instagram's 5th birthday by sharing portraits of some of the characters you can find in the Museum #WWIM12 For @instagram's 5th birthday we’re sharing portraits of some of the characters you can find in the British Museum.
#todayimet this Ming Dynasty figure, who helped judge people in the underworld! The belief in Hell entered China with Buddhism during the early 1st millennium AD. This figure of a judge’s assistant is holding records of evil deeds under his left arm. Meet this fearsome figure (if you dare!) in our Asia gallery (Room 33) #WWIM12 We’re celebrating @instagram's 5th birthday by sharing portraits of some of the characters you can find in the Museum.
#todayimet Ramesses II, who ruled Egypt for 67 years over 3,000 years ago. This colossal statue is one of the largest pieces of Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum. Like all Egyptian statues, it was originally painted. Traces of pigment remain: black for the eye pupils, red for the skin, and blue and yellow for the stripes on the headcloth.
Meet the pharaoh for yourself in our Egyptian Sculpture Gallery (Room 4) #WWIM12 Our #Celts exhibition opens today! It brings together the incredible Iron Age, Roman and early medieval collections of the British Museum and @nationalmuseumsscotland.
Roman control of southern Britain broke down around AD 410. New leaders established Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England, and Roman towns and cities were largely abandoned. Neighbouring communities in Scotland, Ireland and Wales continued to develop their own unique identities. Monasteries in these areas stood out as European centres of art, learning and literacy, perpetuating and reinventing local traditions. Communities here spoke languages that we now call Celtic, and practiced a distinctive form of Christianity.
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Slab of grey sandstone with a cross on one side. From Monifieth, Angus, Scotland, c. AD 800–900. National Museums Scotland.
Find out more about #Celtic art and history and book tickets at Our #Celts exhibition opens today! It brings together stunning objects from the British and Irish Isles as well spectacular loans from across Europe.
This magnificent cauldron is one of the most important and intriguing finds from ancient Europe. It reveals connections between communities thousands of miles apart. Although it depicts objects used in central and western Europe,
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the antlered figure hint at even wider influences, from as far afield as Asia. The scenes on the panels give a glimpse into a world of ancient myths, and the stories of gods and heroes whose names are now lost.
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Gundestrup cauldron. Iron Age, c. 100 BC–AD 1. Found in Gundestrup, northern Jutland, Denmark. @nationalmuseet, #Denmark.
Find out more about #Celtic art and history and book tickets at Our major new #Celts exhibition is now open! Come on a 2,500-year journey tracing what it means to be Celtic...
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2,000 years ago valuable objects like this were cast into rivers. This magnificent shield was found in the River Thames at Battersea Bridge. It was not made for serious warfare as it is too short to provide sensible protection. Instead, it was probably made for flamboyant display. The highly polished bronze and glinting red glass would have made for a great spectacle.
The Battersea shield. Iron Age, c. 350–50 BC. Found in the River Thames, London, England.
Find out more about #Celtic art and history and book tickets at

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