Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to have been asked to open this splendid exhibition celebrating the Hajj; one of the five Pillars of Islam and thus of the greatest possible significance to the spiritual and temporal lives of Muslim people across the entire world.
I wanted in particular to thank HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; Your Royal Highness you do us all a great honour with your presence here, representing, as you do, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. That you have travelled to London to be here this evening underscores how truly significant this exhibition is, both for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
I say this because the sub-title of this exhibition, ‘Journey to the Heart of Islam’ speaks most obviously of the physical journey made by Muslims from across the world to the Ka’ba in Mecca – a journey undertaken every year by up to twenty five thousand Muslims from the United Kingdom alone to the epicentre of this ancient and noble Faith. But it also speaks of the spiritual journey to one’s own heart. It is this integrated vision of our existence, the combination of a literal and a metaphorical pilgrimage, which joins all people of Faith, reflecting the timeless truth that all life is rooted in the unity of our Creator.
I am sure, ladies and gentlemen, like me, you will see that, by gathering together a remarkable collection of treasures from across the world, this exhibition brings to life the very human stories of the countless generations who have completed the Hajj through the ages – from Singapore to Istanbul, from Nanjing to Mombasa. Through the vivid images and artefacts on display, the exhibition reveals the truly universal character of the Hajj.
I wanted to pay particular tribute, if I may, to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques who, in accordance with Islamic teaching, generously hosts Hajjis making the pilgrimage to Mecca, providing remarkable practical and logistic facilities. This recalls the hospitality shown to earlier pilgrims by the family of the Prophet Mohammed, itself following a noble tradition reaching back to the Prophet Abraham who built the original Ka’ba. I also wanted to commend the British Museum and its partners, including H.S.B.C., for their vision and foresight in developing this exhibition and persuading so many distinguished collectors to lend their artefacts.
I can only pray, Insha' Allah, that this exhibition will be, for all who see it, a source of education, of understanding and of delight. It therefore gives me the greatest possible pleasure to declare the British Museum’s Hajj exhibition open.