Christina Patterson: Whether or not you have faith, the Hajj is one journey we all need to understand



You don't have to go round it seven times, but you almost feel you should. You almost feel, when you go into what used to be the reading room at the British Museum, where Marx, and Kipling, and Orwell used to work, and hear the wailing of a human voice that millions hear as a call to prayer, as if you should swap your jeans for a tunic. You almost feel you should shave your head. You almost feel like shouting "Allahu Akbar".

You feel this because when you walk in to the Hajj exhibition at the British Museum, which is the first exhibition ever to be put on about the journey Muslims are expected to make, you see that so many people have felt that these were the right things to do. You see them in the photos at the start: people who don't, from a distance, look like people, but who look, instead, like dots. You see them in a film later: more people who look like dots, swirling round a big black block. And you see them in a glass cabinet: tiny splinters of metal massed round a big black magnet, tiny splinters that look like the people who look like dots.

You see, in the photos of travel agents, and of people waiting at airports, and hunched over trays on planes, that some people who have made this journey have travelled a very, very long way. They've done this, by plane, even when the place they're going to is thousands of miles away. And they've done this long before there were planes. They've done this even when they've had to travel thousands of miles on a camel, or by boat, or on foot. They've done this because a man they believe was a prophet told them they should.

What you see, in the beautiful old maps, and the illuminated manuscripts, and ancient Korans, and in the guides to the rituals of the Hajj, and the pictures of pilgrims, and the embroidered textiles that were used to cover things that people thought were holy, is the power of something that has lifted people out of their lives. It has, for more than 1,000 years, made them leave, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, their families, and their homes, and everything they know, and taken them to a place where everything is new. It has taken them to a place where people all wear the same things, and do the same things, and say the same words. And where, in wearing, and doing, and saying these things, they feel both smaller and bigger. They feel smaller because they're just one tiny dot in a swirling mass of dots, but they feel bigger because that swirling mass of dots is their family.

You can't see the granite milestone, from the route from Baghdad to Mecca named after the woman who kitted it out with resting stations and wells (which, in the eighth century, not all that many women had the money to do), or the jewels worn by some of the pilgrims who travelled on that route, and not feel that this force, which drew people away from their lives and homes, and through deserts where they might die, must be really quite strong. You can't see the pictures of the Africans, and the Turks, and the Indians, and the Uzbeks, and the Malays, who all made that journey, even though they didn't have much money, and know that quite a few of them died in the process, or in the crush when they got there, and not think that this must, in fact, be one of the most powerful forces the world has ever seen.

You might find yourself thinking about the journeys that people who didn't make this journey have made. You might think about how some people wanted to climb mountains, or run marathons, or sail, single-handed, across seas. You might think of the people who starve in spas. You might wonder why it was that people felt that they wanted to escape from their lives, or go on long journeys, or make a very, very big effort to do something they wouldn't normally do, and you might decide that it didn't really matter why they wanted to do it, but that they always had, and always would.

You might think, when you saw the little dots swirling round the big, black block, and knew that they were following a complicated set of rules that were set out in a book, as if they were playing a complicated game, that there was something a little bit sinister about three million adults all following complicated rules, in a way that made it clear that they didn't think they were playing a game. You might think it was a little bit sinister in the way that plaster casts at Christian shrines were a little bit sinister. But you might also think that it didn't really matter whether or not you thought the rules were sinister, or the shrines were sinister, because the rules and shrines were probably here to stay.

You might decide that, since about a quarter of the world's population was now Muslim, and two and a half million people in this country, and that that number was going up, it was probably a good idea to try to understand a bit more about the faith that made them travel so far. And that this journey, round this museum, which makes you think of all the journeys human beings have ever made, is a very, very, very good place to start.

Dear computer, I'm not a fat mum

For some time, I've wondered whether everyone with a computer gets bombarded with the same ads as me. I've wondered if they get the ads saying "London Mum loses 3 stones in 4 weeks!", or "Mum, 57, discovers £3 method for erasing wrinkles!". I've really wanted to know if everyone else get treated as if they're a fat, gullible, middle-aged mum who spends an awful lot of time worrying about getting old.

This week, I got my answer, and it's "No". These ads are, apparently, generated by your "browsing behaviour". Which, in my case, is largely news. Does my computer know I'm a woman, and think I shouldn't be looking at news? Does it think I should be a mum? Or have I been hacked? Leveson, I await my summons.

All you need (in Bogota) is love

Boris must be jealous. So must Ken. Gustavo Petro, the new mayor of Bogota, has an approval rating of 69 per cent. And he hasn't just got it through charm. Petro, who used to be a guerrilla, and who's been captured and tortured, and jailed for carrying an illegal firearm, has decided to ban guns. It is, he says, about "generating a culture of tolerance and love".

Bogota is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. More than 1,000 people were shot and killed there last year. At a time when every politician says they're "bold", I think we can agree that this is bold. And it sure beats Boris bikes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star