British Museum blog

Reflections on Hajj

In November 2011, Altaf and Rashida went on Hajj.
Here, Altaf reflects on the experience.

The end of Hajj
After our third night at Mina, we travelled by coach back to Mecca where the adventure continued. The coach driver took a wrong turning and headed in the wrong direction for 20 minutes. He then did a three point turn on the motorway and then a few miles later ran out of diesel! So a short journey of 40 minutes turned into a three hour saga! Even though everyone was extremely tired, the group stayed in good spirits as this was the first and only real hiccup in the whole trip.

Once we finally arrived in Mecca we checked into a 5 star hotel for a well-deserved rest. The hotel felt so luxurious and clean after having roughed it for a week. The hotel was less than a five minute walk to the Ka’ba so we made frequent trips for prayer and tawaf. Tawaf was very difficult as the Ka’ba was packed full of worshipers. We did the circumambulation on the top floor which increased the distance of each circuit to almost double.

One evening I went to do a tawaaf and half way through I felt peckish so I went and got a cheese burger from Burger King, sat over looking the holy mosque containing the Ka’ba. It was 2am, the temperature was 27 degrees centigrade…it was surreal experience, two different worlds with me in the middle.

After Hajj

After Hajj was over, we went to Jeddah to spend some time with my older brother who lives there with his wife and son. We were eager to see them as it had been a long while and we had never met the baby.

What a contrast! One day being in the holiest Islamic site in the world, the next in an ultra-modern busy city with the latest technology and all the designer shops you can imagine. However the remembrance of Allah is never far away – life revolves around the prayer times. When we were in one of the traditional open souks we heard the call to prayer – the shops shut their doors and the market stalls just covered their goods with a sheet and went off for prayer. Ten minutes later it’s all back to normal.

Back in London

Having completed one of the pillars of Islam, I feel the need to protect the remaining four even more than I had before I went on Hajj. The experience has changed lots of things. I feel a lot more connected to the creator and have a stronger visual connection between the text of the Quran and the knowledge that I have completed an ancient rite.

I was really missing Saudi so I logged on to the Ka’ba web site and the area around the Ka’ba was virtually empty, just a few hundred people doing tawaf. It looked very different to what I had experienced with millions of people.

Doing the Hajj has reinforced my strength in my faith and helps me remember Allah more regularly.

Altaf and Rashida Abbas went on Hajj this year and blogged 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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You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

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