Almighty God has honoured the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by entrusting it with the care of the Holy Mosques, the Holy Places and associated buildings, the service of pilgrims going on the Hajj or the Umra, taking care of the humanitarian aspects of the Hajj, displaying rare pieces in their museums, and texts that tell the human story of Muslims from all civilizations and cultures in their most dazzling forms.
In April 2012, official approval was granted for the establishment of a world exhibition about the Hajj, to be held by the King Abdul-Aziz Public Library in cooperation with the British Museum within the framework of a series of exhibitions on religious followers, to document cultural and physical aspects of the pilgrimage and to display rare museum and archaeological pieces, as well as paintings and illustrations introducing the Hajj and the habits and behaviour of earlier performers of the Hajj.
The Library organized the exhibition as part of its ongoing efforts to build knowledge and cultural bridges in an age of misinformation, and faulty understandings and misinterpretation by Muslims in the West. It took about three years to prepare for it. It was described as one of the largest exhibitions of pilgrimage, and one of the richest in historical and artistic objects. It was aimed - through manuscripts, textiles, photographs, stories and artifacts - to offer guests a sketch of the most important spiritual journey in the life of the Muslim. It was opened by and held under the auspices of his Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, in the museum's famous circular reading hall. It is a new and positive sign on the path of dialogue and interaction among cultures. It represents a new and positive sign on the path of intercultural dialogue and interaction.
His Royal Highness Prince Abdul-Aziz Bin Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, Chairman of the Library's Board of Directors, delivered a speech in which he welcomed Prince Charles and the audience, thanked the British Museum for hosting the exhibition, and noted the importance of the Hajj as the largest Islamic gathering for the purpose of holding an Islamic ritual. His Highness stressed the Kingdom's efforts to spread peace in the world through the initiatives and humanitarian projects of King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz. The architecture of the two Holy Mosques and the development of the Holy places are among his most important personal concerns.
Prince Charles then delivered his speech, expressing his great happiness at being invited to open the exhibition, and then enumerating the virtues of Islam and the generosity of Muslims all over the world. "It is a great honour for me to observe this great occasion relating to one of the pillars of Islam," he said. He also pointed out that the pilgrimage reflects the unity of the human race, as it turns to the Creator from all over the world during the annual celebration of the Hajj through the centuries. "The exhibition reflects this universal character of the Hajj," he said, adding that the exhibition was a key source of knowledge, mutual understanding and coexistence among religions.
The Library also organized the same exhibition in Paris in 2014, under the auspices of and opened by his Excellency President Francois Hollande of France, in cooperation with the Arab World Institute in Paris. The events of the exhibition continued for three months in the two capitals.
The Exhibition included 230 museum exhibits, chronicling the history of the Hajj pilgrimage through the ages and the human and Islamic values associated with this pilgrimage, which express the sublime values of equality, tolerance and cooperation among millions of Muslims round the world. It also included modern photographs, old and modern films, sculptures and a collection of the most beautiful works of art, textiles and manuscripts, including: 53 museum exhibits from the collections of the Library, the National Museum of Riyadh, the Museum of the King Saud University, the Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition in Mecca, and the King Abdul-Aziz Complex for Manufacturing Kaaba Kiswa. Also on display were more than 177 other museum exhibits from the collections of the British Museum, the Louvre Museum, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, the French National Library, the Library of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, the Royal Geographic Society in London, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. There were also a large number of exhibits from museum display and art galleries from a number of Arab, Islamic and European countries, and some museum exhibits belonging to private individuals, including manuscripts, paintings, archaeological discoveries, tiles, photographs, Hajj certificates, Hajj guidebooks and archive films. In addition, there were some items that pilgrims carried with them on their journey or returned with as souvenirs to their homelands. Among the splendid fabrics in the exhibition were covers, panels and curtains made specially for the Kaaba. The most striking exhibit was a 19th-century Hajj litter covered in rich red silk, embroidered with silver and gold and suspended from a wooden frame. It is considered the most important thing that the pilgrimage convoy coming from Cairo carried. Among the oldest exhibits were a rare copy of the Qur’an from the 8th century AD, ancient maps, astralobes, compasses, and diaries of Hajjis relating to the Hajj journey, and a stunning red litter used by sultans while being carried from place to place.
The exhibition included pictures of pilgrims in buses or planes, and books including rare manuscripts, travel journals, as well as a book by the first Muslim British lady to perform the Hajj, named Evelyn Cobbold, along with pictures and pages of hand-written prayers that she brought with her from Cairo, as she went to perform the Hajj in 1933.
The Exhibition was enriched further by a selection of works of art and photographs by artists from different countries, inspired by the pilgrimage scene and the meanings associated with it, as well as writings of writers and orientalists dealing with this religious gathering that brings together millions of Muslims. In addition, there were 3D models of grand projects that the Saudi government has completed to improve the well-being of pilgrims, and to facilitate their performance of the rites. They have had a wonderful effect in transforming the pilgrimage into an easy faith journey that bears no comparison with the pain and suffering that pilgrims experienced in the past when performing the Hajj.
The Exhibition presented huge projects that included expansion and development of the two Holy Mosques and the Holy Places to raise the capacity of the two Holy Mosques. It also presented a project involving the Jamarat Bridge and the surrounding area where the rite of Mina and Muzdalifah takes place. It involves expanding the Jamarat facilities, whose current capacity is 300 thousand pilgrims per hour, and currently measures 950 meters long and 80 meters wide. For the new development, it is planned that its foundations will be able to carry 12 floors, with a capacity of five million pilgrims in the future, in addition to the development of squares in the surrounding area that will accommodate hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. In addition, there will be an automated system to clean the arenas and a rail shuttle system to transport pilgrims from Muzdalifa and from their camps in Mina to the Jamarat Bridge. A large number of hospitals and medical clinics will also be built. In addition, there is a sprinkler project to sweeten the air and a Zamzam water project as well as distinguished achievements and service improvements.
The Exhibition proceeded along three main tracks. The first introduced the history of the pilgrimage as a universal human heritage from its early beginnings in the era of Abraham the father of the prophets, the construction of the Holy Kaaba, and describing the ways the pilgrimage was performed over the course of history.
The second track focused on the experience of the Hajj as a deeply-rooted experience of faith and shared humanity and as a public display of the human values behind this experience, as well as a clarification of the concept of the Hajj to Mecca, its rites and rituals, the ways it has been performed, and the associated values of mutual knowledge and tolerance.
As for the third track, it focused on the Holy City of Mecca as a world city, which millions of Muslims go to every year from all the countries of the world to perform the Hajj and Umrah rituals, and the great progress witnessed during the last hundred years in the care network developed by the Saudi state for the comfort and safety of pilgrims on both the Hajj and the Umrah and the preparation of the Holy Places to accommodate the steady yearly increase in the number of pilgrims.
The three tracks of the exhibition highlighted the unity of Muslims in the performance of the ritual of the Hajj and the associated manifestations of equality and tolerance. They also highlighted Muslims' attachment to the Holy Places throughout the ages, and displayed the Kingdom's efforts to serve pilgrims and to develop the concept of service to them, which has made these rites a source of honour and responsibility. The Kingdom has enlarged the Holy Mosque in Mecca, which in 1925 extended over no more than 30,000 square meters, at which time it could accommodate 100,000 pilgrims so that with the expansion carried out by King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, which combined development with expansion along vertical, horizontal and service lines, it now extends over 1 million square meters, accommodating more than three million pilgrims and worshippers. A cluster of three vantage points have been built to throw the Jamarat from, and the Mecca clock has been created, which is the largest and tallest clock in the world. The Holy Places shuttle has been opened, to transport more than two million pilgrims in just a few days, and a factory has been built to make coverings for the Ka’abba, while another factory has been constructed to purify the waters of the blessed Zamzam well so as to distribute millions of litres of water per day to pilgrims. This historic expansion, and other parallel achievements, are a landmark in the history of the architecture of the Holy Mosque and the Holy Places.
The Exhibition was largely successful in delivering its message, and in clarifying its aim by putting this religious ritual on display as the biggest annual gathering for peace, love and proximity to God in Holy Mecca.
The Exhibition was a cultural and cognitive spectacle, and an embodiment of the vision of the leadership of the Kingdom, creating a cultural environment which is dedicated to communicating with other peoples on the basis of love and peace by employing and promoting common cultural meeting points and strengthening them in a way that serves human interests. It also embodies its humanitarian initiative to promote global dialogue with followers of religions and cultures, calling for openness to each other, cooperation, alliance, and the creation of a common ground for mutual knowledge and exchange of views. The leadership of the Kingdom is a Movement for Peace, mutual knowledge and moderation, culminating in the establishment of the King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna.
All this is in addition to the way the Exhibition reflects the depth of Saudi Arabia’s relationships with Britain, France and Europe in general, which interact with and support Saudi Arabia's initiatives to communicate knowledge and human values among cultures and to promote dialogue among followers of different religions, in an effort to come together around common denominators aimed at establishing the values of justice, peace and respect among peoples.