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The Unifying Pilgrimage

Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque hosts a collection of important Islamic artefacts in an exhibition exploring the Hajj

From September 20, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi will be the venue for a new exhibition: Hajj: Memories of a Journey. It presents the Emirati relationship with Islam through a series of artefacts, as well as through the story of Sheikh Zayed’s own Hajj. The exhibition includes ancient artefacts like a fragment of silk thought to be from the tomb of the Prophet, plaster work from Jumeirah dating back to the 10th to 13th centuries and an intricate pilgrimage scroll from Saudi Arabia, created in 1880.

The Hajj pilgrimage is one of Islam’s unifying pillars, to be undertaken by Muslims at least once in their lives. Technology has wrought radical changes to the nature of this pilgrimage, which before mass air travel required a long and hazardous trip through deserts and across seas. The founder of the U.A.E., Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, visited Hajj on several occasions, notably in 1979 when colour television enabled the Emirati nation to follow his progress to Mecca in daily installments.

The exhibition also includes souvenirs and curios collected over many years from the bazaars near Mecca. These historically took pride of place in the homes of those who had completed the pilgrimage. One such token includes the a pop-up card of the Kaaba from the 1960s or 1970s, a precious symbol of one of the most important times.

A notable addition to the evolution of the Hajj is Piece of Paradise, 2014, by Saudi artist Arwa Al Neami. She became the first female to photograph inside the Masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina. It’s the second holiest site in Islam after the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and the second mosque built in history, holding the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad. Arwa’s images of the ceiling mosaics have been previously featuring in shows in Istanbul and London.

The venue for the show, the Grand Mosque, is itself a shrine that shines with craft and exquisite detail: it unifies diverse Islamic architectural design with minarets in the Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles. The huge botanic mosaics, with date palms and frangipani, seem to thrive on the marble surfaces, and are by British artist Kevin Dean.


Featured image: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 32.

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Anya Stafford is a writer living between the UAE and Ireland. She has over 15 years' experience as an online editor and writer for the likes of Google, Sony, Deezer and City Arts Centre Dublin. She recently completed first year of the MFA in Media through the National College of Art and Design, and before that the MSc in Interactive Digital Media in Trinity College, both in Dublin. Her ongoing research focuses on systems of art, and the aesthetics of ecosystems.

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