Sunday, 1 June 2014

"Anis al-Hujjaj" and other first-hand accounts on Hajj until 1700

The Islamic pilgrimage, called "Hajj", represents the fifth pillar of the five basic acts in Islam which are considered mandatory for every Muslim, the Five Pillars of Islam. These pillars are Shahada (Declaration of Faith), Salat (ritual prayer, performed five times a day), Zakat (giving 2,5% of one's savings to the poor and needy), Saum (fasting and self-control during the Islamic month of Ramadan) and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah once in a lifetime if one is able to).

The Hajj contains many rituals, which are performed by the pilgrim. The main rituals include walking seven times around the Kaaba (the black cube inside the Mosque Al-Haram in Makkah, considered the holiest place of the Islamic world) termed Tawaf, touching the Black Stone termed Istilam, traveling seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah termed Sa'yee, and symbolically stoning the Devil in Mina termed Ramee. Additionally to those rituals there exist many different obligatory deeds and recommended acts of worship such as the rituals connected to approaching or entering Makkah as well as completing the pilgrimage and returning home. As an example the way the clothing Ihram, consisting of two plain white sheets worn by male pilgrims, is folded.

The pilgrimage is considered a life-changing event in every Muslims life but its realization is not seen as self-evident. Globally speaking it is still the wealthy and fortunate who attend the journey,
although nowadays more affordable plane tickets have replaced exclusive traveling, such as ship- and caravan-transportation. Both the spiritual meaningfulness and the actualization of the unlikely are reasons for the popularity of certificates attesting a person’s pilgrimage and other documentation of the journey. As a third aspect comes the possible improvement of one's socio economic status after a completed pilgrimage, which creates a need for attestation.

“Please forgive me if I have done you wrong. I am going on Hajj.” (2012) Newsha Tavakolian

The rituals of the Hajj have not changed much since their introduction through the Quran and the Sunnah (teachings and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). But very much alike today's Muslims, the Muslims of earlier generations needed advice and guidance in order to perform the complicated rituals of the Hajj in correct manner and order.

Reports and guides on the pilgrimage

Written and illustrated guides on Hajj existed throughout the Islamic world already around 1000, produced by pilgrims and outsiders who had travelled from distant countries and continents to perform or witness the pilgrimage. More remarkable guides and detailed accounts of experience are though dated back to 1200 from where we witness a steady grow of this kind of scriptures.

"The travels of Ibn Jubair", written by Ibn Jubair (d.1217), is a detailed first-hand account on the journey from Andalucía (Spain) to Makkah. Jubair began his journey on 3rd February 1183 and after travelling up the Nile and passing through the desert of 'Aidhab he arrived in Makkah on the 4th of August, having travelled for six months. Later his report was extensively read by other important travelers who performed the pilgrimage.

"As we marched that night, the full moon had thrown its rays upon the earth, the night had lifted its veil, voices struck the ears with cries of “Here I am O God, here I am” from all sides."

R.J.C. Broadhurst (transl.) “The travels of Ibn Jubayr” (London 1952, reprint 2004) p. 75

The Travels (Rihla) of Ibn Jubayr (875/1470, Mecca). Leiden University Library (OR.320, fols. 2-3)

Alongside with the spread of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula into Africa, Persia, Asia, Spain, the Balkans and the Indian subcontinent under the Seljuk and later the Ottomans, the European interest in Islam began to grow. Parallelly Islam was seen as a threat to Christian Europe, especially since the Ottoman Empire defended its frontiers against European powers successfully, it was basically exterminated from Europe in the 1490s through the Reconquista ("reconquest", a period of militant Christianizing on the Iberian Peninsula that lasted 800 years).

Considering these problematic times it comes as a surprise when an Italian traveler and aristocrat, Ludovico di Varthema (ca. 1470-1517) undertakes the difficulties of a distant journey and travels to Makkah in 1503. He travels to Cairo and from where he continues over Syria to the Arabian Peninsula, taking the Arabic name Yunas (Jonas) as a pseudonym, in order to hide his European origin. Pretending to be a Muslim was considered a serious crime both in Muslim Syria as well as in Italy, but Varthema realizes this to be the only way to enter the holy cities, Makkah and Medina. Everything he experiences there he captures in his writings and drawings, that he later on pulls together into a book, entitled Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema ("Route of Ludovico di Varthema"). 

Varthemas writings are followed by a large number of others, such as the beautifully illustrated ten volume work called the Seyahatname (the Book of Travels) by Evliya Çelebi (performed Hajj in 1672) and The Joy of Stopping-Places by Mehmed Edib, an Ottoman judge from Crete (Performed Hajj in 1790).

A True and Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mahometans by Joseph Pitts (1663 –1735), Royal Geographic Society, 330090

Joseph Pitts (1663 - 1735) A True and Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mahometans is exceptional in the way that the author was both European and Muslim and prescribes the Hajj that he performed in 1680, in the age of 17.

"The Beat-Allah (Bayt Allah, the House of God or the Kaaba) which stands in the middle of the Temple, is Four-square, about twenty four Paces each Square, and nearly four Foot in Height. 'Tis build with great Stone, all smooth and plain, without the least bit of carv’d Work on it. ‘Tis covered all over from top to bottom, with a sort of Silk....The top of the Beat is flat, beaten with Lime and Sand; and there is a long Gutter or Spout, so carry off the Water when it rains; at which time the people will run, throng, and struggle, to get under the said Gutter, that so the Water that comes off the Beat may fall upon them, accounting it as the Dew of Heaven, and looking on it as of great Happiness to have it drop upon them."

"It was a sight indeed, able to pierce one’s heart, to behold so many thousands of Muslims in their garments of humility and mortification, with their naked heads, and cheeks watered with tears." (About Mount Arafat)

P.Auchterlonie 2012. Encountering Islam. Joseph Pitts: an English Slave in 17th-century Algiers and Mecca. London 2012, pp. 190-191

Anis al-Hujjaj

One of the most stunning documents on the pilgrimage is the Anis al-Hujjaj, the Pilgrim's Companion, by Safi ibn Vali, an Indian scholar, whose pilgrimage (1676) was sponsored by Zib al-Nisa, the daughter of Aurangzeb, the sixth emperor of the Mughal Empire and ruler over most of the Indian subcontinent. Aurangzeb is known as a strong and effective ruler such as an notable expansionist. As a political and religious conservative he abandoned the secularist and liberal viewpoints of his predecessors and gave way to religious intolerance. The Establishment of Islamic Law, the Sharia, is concerned to be one of his most notable achievements.

Matt Biggs for the British Museum

Every year two of his royal ships traveled to the Red Sea carrying hundreds of pilgrims. It was not easy to pass the Portuguese, who had recently begun encroaching on the Indian Ocean and attacking Muslim shipping, so that the religious scholars of the Mogul court declared the Hajj as nonbinding under these circumstances.

Safi ibn Vali reached Makkah in 1676 and undertook a year-long pilgrimage, during which he wrote and illustrated the Anis al-Hujjaj. It gives advice to prospective pilgrims on every aspect of the journey, starting from which ships to choose and how to stay healthy. He had a wide knowledge of the teachings of Islam and was trusted as a scholar (he had been asked to write a commentary on the Quran for Zib al-Nisa) and this is seen in his illustrations which often give advice in affairs of worship and behavior during the pilgrimage.

From the “Anis al-Hujjaj”, Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, MSS 1025 fols 2b, 3b, 21a, 22b (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

The illustrations start on the left with the port of Surat north of Bombay which was the main point of embarkation for the pilgrims. It is orientated to the south and the ships are about to depart. Having crossed the Indian Ocean they enter the Arabian Sea, here called the Sea of Oman. They travel in convoy in ocean-going dhows. The smaller boats are perhaps there to guide them as they are entering dangerous coastal waters. After entering the Red Sea, the first port is that of Mocha in Yemen, famous for its association with the export of coffee. Finally they reach Jedda, the port of Mecca.” (British Museum)

The Camp of  North African Pilgrims (detail) Anis al-hujjaj by Safi ibn Vali (Gujarat?), 1677–1680. Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art

Safi ibn Valis illustrations are incomparable with the mostly diagrammatic views in other reports (mostly depicting the Kaaba Distinct or the Mina Valley). They are vivid and colorful and maintain blended Hindu idiom and Indian aesthetics on one hand and Islamic cult and elements of Safavid Iran on the other. From a western point of view they may appear simple in their conception but in fact they are very sensible in design and brilliant in color composition. The co-existence of three dimensional-looking objects and the total absence of linear perspective within one painting is delicate and makes that seemingly ambiguous composition look self-confident and based on a completely conscious choice. The used materials are mainly watercolor, ink and gold on paper. Occasionally text and painting are combined on one page.


Anis al-Hujjaj:
The British Museum "The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture" by Annemarie Schimmel
The Khalili Collection

Other reports:
The Mariner's Museum

Painting in Mughal Era:

Historical facts:

My own and

Friday, 23 May 2014

I Am Happy! (Another post against grim-faced Islam)

Can you remember back when you thought of Islam as a religion of joy and happiness?

The perception of Islam, that I call "grim-faced Islam", is something unluckily widely spread in the world. Islam is a Religion of terrorists, fanatics, suppressors and surpressed, of dumb, maniacs, and men. Yes, a religion of men. When you enter the keyword Islam into google image search, all those existing preopinions make sense. Put the keyword Buddhism into google image search and the picture is completely different. There is hardly any negative imagery. You will find dozens of pictures of Buddha and lotus flowers. Buddha is smiling. Well, we don't depicture Allah. But if we did - would He be smiling? Why am I saying this?       

Only after extensive scrolling you will find a Time-cover with a buddhist monk and the headline "The face of Buddhist terror". (No "Buddhism will dominate the World" or "Buddhists can't be friends with Non-Buddhists", "Buddhism is a death-cult" or "Ban Buddhism") This is not because there are no negative stories to tell about Buddhism. Anyway, I'm pretty sure you can imagine what happens when you put the keyword Islam in the search-box.
Well, that is certainly not because the shown results are the truth about Islam, I think we all can agree on that, right? So why is it then? I think many Muslims would agree on the claim that that is because of the negative preopinions that others have on our peaceful faith. I can see truth in this claim and I definitely support the idea of clarification around this topic in the media. And I certainly don't say our faith isn't peaceful.
What I am saying is this: We should ask ourselves what the image is that we Muslims have of Islam? What are the values that we point out when we are in dialogue with others? How are we living our faith? Not to forget these: Do we smile? Are we kind to others? Do we respect one another? So let's just again focus on our own behaviour, on our own perception and values, our own thoughts. Are they in harmony with what we Muslims believe is the Peaceful Religion of Islam? 

My pledge is: Let us be happy and let's not give grim-faces ("Is this video halal or haram?" You must be kidding me) a chance to spoil our joy! 

Btw. The British Muslims are Happy - video shows many familiar faces, amongst them Kübra Gümüşay from and Myriam Francois-Cerrah from        

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

I want you!


Every person has the right to love.
Every person has the right to love whoever he or she wants, whoever he or she decides to.
Every person has the right to want whoever he or she loves.
Islam gives instructions on how to live and love in order not to hurt, not to create destruction.
Muslims are prohibited from certain patterns that lead to destruction.
Muslims are encouraged to follow the patterns that lead to love and that preserve love.
Muslims are guided towards experiencing love, love that gives shelter in times of trouble.
Muslims are instructed to remain faithful to their partners.
God has put Love and Mercy between partners.

“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may 
dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put Love and mercy between your (hearts), verily in that 
are signs for those who reflect.” (Qur'an 30:21)

Friday, 16 May 2014

7 Weeks to Ramadan - Being less of a jerk

It is only in about 7 weeks that we will face Ramadan Inshallah so it is once again time to think about how we want to welcome the blessed month, what we want to achieve, what to experience and what to take with us when the month is over and we pick up with our daily lives again!

Everyone of us has different issues to tackle in life. They might be related to our health and well-being, worship or religious education, our relationships to family, spouses or friends, our place in the society and the nature of our work, the chances we took or that we didn't take in life. We might suffer of our past, the present or fear the future. Or we might be perfectly happy and balanced and still long for something extraordinary!

I'm sure that most of us want to change something. 

Normally we can't change our surrounding or the society we were born into, our occupation or our demographical and geographical location. But when there is a chance, we have to know why we want to change something: Is it because we see something going wrong in society, f.e. a lack of humanitarianism or respect amongst people; the occuring of some grave social issues? Or is it in fact because we're not feeling comfortable ourselves, not happy or accepted by the surrounding, not optimistic about our chance for a good life?
The line between a personal issue and a social one is thin and may be subjective, but when the personal issue is significant enough or a larger amount of individuals are affected by it, it is automatically a social one. And the other way around. That means that in which ever way we are being harmed, most likely society is being harmed. It means, in which ever way we're been treated well, most likely it has a positive impact for the rest of society. I guess everybody agrees with me when I assume that even the smallest action can cause big consequences. 

We should start by changing something about ourselves.

We should pay attention to our own behaviour, even to the smallest details. To the way we interact with people, the way we work and study, the way we treat other living creatures, the environment and objects of daily life. But most importantly: the way we treat those who are close to us.

For me it implies asking myself the following questions:

  • How many times have I approached my family by my own account, unsolicited? Called them, written to them, seen them?
  • Have I thought of them when I have felt happy, satisfied, blessed? When I have achieved/purchased/received something?
  • Am I treating others fair? Have I forgiven them their mistakes? Or have I unconsciously condemned somebody for his/hers previous actions?
  • Do I treat my partner/spouse with respect and love? 
  • Am compassionate towards my partner/spouse?
  • Am I paying enough attention to what a person is saying to me?
  • Am I being gentle towards people? Or am I being harsh and unfriendly?
  • Do I help others when I'm being asked/not asked for a favor? 
  • Am I providing help selflessly/open-handedly, or am I expecting something in return?
  • Do I believe to better than another person?
  • Am I honest and loyal towards my friends/partner?
  • ...

If perfection was my goal, I would be as far from it as from being a millionaire (that's extremely far!). I can openly say that most of the faults listed above apply to me in a way. Some more frequently, some less. Yes, I know, it's sad!! That's why I really want to concentrate on tackling a couple of them, inshallah. 

 This is my Master Plan:

  • I want to be more compassionate and gentle towards others 
  • I want to forgive people their mistakes fully and completely and treat others fair
  • I want to remember my family and friends with handwritten letters! 

So please make du'a for me that I manage to stick to my new principles starting from NOW, so that I become less of a jerk! I will make du'as for all the "pig won'ts" out there, I promise :)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Thank You Copenhagen Airport!

I just recently came home from a family visit in Germany. It was hard to leave there but in a way I'm happy to be home again for a while! The day of my return I woke up, having undoubtedly not slept enough, and made it somehow to the Airport on time in order to take my plane back to Finland. Almost immediately after seating I slept only to wake up when I was served tea and to fall asleep again. I didn't quite realize what was wrong when I left the plane, but I must have forgotten my transit in Copenhagen because I remember wondering why I didn't see finnish signs anywhere! Well, my transit-time in Copenhagen lasted for 4 painful hours that I mostly spend hunting for a cup of tea that cost less than 5 Euros - I didn't find one - and seeing which bench could suit me for a little nap (of 2 hours, as it turned out to last).
But my real discovery was a small Silent Room (for meditation, relaxation, prayer -  as it said on the sign) with a comfy tuffed carpet and a prayer mat! In the middle of the room was a strangely shaped, sofa (color: silver), in front of it a vase with flowers and in the left corner, covered by a glass/plastic partition, a prayer rug and a tasbih. Tired as I was I was really happy of being alone in this peaceful room, so I went to the toilet that was nearby, made my wudhu and came back to pray Dhur.

I think that apart from the fact that Muslims are recommended to pray whilst travels (it is not obligatory after a certain distance of destination/lenght of journey) it is a nice and helpful thing for anyone to do. Just to take a break and go to pray or meditate into one of the airports prayer rooms will help to handle the stress of travelling and offer an alternative to the booming commercialism and urge for consumerism in regular transit areas.


A list of European Airports that have Prayer-rooms:

  • Frankfurt International Airport: Separate prayer rooms for Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and other faiths.
  • London Heathrow: Anglican Chapel, Free Church, Catholic Church, multi-faith prayer rooms and Faith Chaplains (Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Roman Catholic, Free Church and Anglican).
  • Munich Franz Josef Strauss Aiport: Muslim Prayer room, multi-faith prayer room.
  • Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport: Multi-faith Prayerarea, Chaplains of various faiths such as Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim.
  • Amsterdam Schiphol Airport: Multi-faith prayer room known as "Meditation Centre".
  • Istanbul Ataturk International Airport: 6 (muslim) prayer rooms.
  • Madrid-Bajaras International Airport: Multi-faith prayer room.
  • Dusseldorf International Airport: One non-demonational prayer room.
  • Stockholm Arlanda Airport: (Multifaith) Chapel for worship.
  • Brussels Airport: Prayer facilities for Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, Protestant and Humanist meditation room (!)
  • London Gatwick Airport: Multi-faith prayer room such as Christian services regularly (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Free Church) and Buddhist services every Monday and on significant dates.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

L'Institut du Monde Arabe - Hajj

Dear Brothers and Sisters and Dear You: It's about time for you to travel to Paris!
Whoever hasn't yet been there, should do it in the first place; and those who've been there - you already know why to return.
Not that I think the twinkling Eiffel-tower looks so magical by night (although it actually does) that you should immediately book the next flight to Paris to experience it. There is something even more remarkable to experience in this City of Love this time. Btw. I'm not promising you will find love there, but surely it will not harm if you try :)

The reason why I especially recommend travelling to Paris is a large exhibition about the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah) in the Institut du Monde Arabe (The Arab World Institute). Immediately at my departure in Paris I noticed that the exhibition was widely advertised on the Paris Metro billboards. Approximately every third metrostation was decorated with gigantic posters. 

The Institute du Monde Arabe is located in the South-East of Paris but can be easily approached by Paris Metro. The line 10 and 7 bring you to the closest metrostation "Jussieu". When you see an original Orient Express-train standing on a huge square, you know that you have arrived at the Place Mohammed V which is surrounded by the Institute.

The Institute has a permanent exhibition, a library, a bookstore and museumshop such as an observation deck, located on the roof of the Institute (provides you with the best free view over Paris!). Additionally it has steadily changing temporary exhibitions. The entrance for the Hajj-exhibition is in the corner of the building located at the Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard.

When I entered the exhibition space I was already moved by the beautiful adhan that accompanied three large screens on which photographs of the Masjid al-Haram were projected. From the entrance I had a clear view on an original piece of the kiswa, the protecting cloth of the Ka'aba, with its detailed embroidery with excerpts of the Qur'an out of gold and silver strings. Moving further into the space I could find all kinds of different examples of filigrantly decorated Qur'an, from Yemen, Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Spain, Marocco, India and Persia. 

The walls were exhibiting colorful wallcloths from the Philippines and highly interesting contemporary artpieces like photography from Newsha Tavakolian (Tehran, Iran), Kazuyoshi Nomachi (Japan) or Arwa Abouon (Libya/Montreal)
The second floor was showing installations and sculptures such as life videostreaming from the Haram (the exact same channel actually as in my post Tawaf of Mind, check it out!),  a miniature model of the Masjid al-Haram, large and epic photographies of oceans of pilgrims during Hajj, a documentary as an introduction into Islam (in french of course) and audio-stations where a bunch of returning pilgrims are telling their stories about Hajj and how it changed their life.

I am actually astonished byt the fact that I haven't been in an exhibition like this before. And it is not so much my lack of interest, but the lack of this kind of exhibitions. There are hundrets and hundrets of exhibitions around Europe which depicture the most exotic tribal traditions from all around the globe, starting from the paintings of the indogenius North-Americans to the tribal music of the South-West Pacific. I think it is typical for us so called Westeners that we are very well informed about Tibetian Buddhism and the Hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians but we are almost indifferent, or worse, reluctant to be informed about our own history and values and sadly of those other peoples that we share our countries, towns, buildings, working surroundings and daily lifes with. As it is for Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Madrid, Rome and other european major Capitals, it is also true for smaller ones like Helsinki: we are living with other people and we will be living with other people (thank God for that). So why not find out who those other people are, instead of judging them on their outer appearance or the existing preopinions that we unfortunately have formed?

I think in that sense this exhibition is very helpful. You don't have to actually step into a beduin-tent or the neighbouring mosque if it makes you feel awkward. And you can still be informed about what your fellow citizen is in fact believing, what is moving him, and why your working colleague chooses to spend her 2 weeks of vacation in the boiling heat of Saudi Arabia, when she could only wear her bikini and relax on the beaches of Tenerife. 

So, mashallah, well done! For more information about the Institut du Monde Arabe go to (in french bien sûr)!

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