Hajj up Close

Zooming in on the Intricacy of Art relating to Islam's Great Annual Pilgrimage

Large watercolour painting of the courtyard of the Masjid al-Haram by AslaniskyThe Khalili Collections

The Hajj

Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the sacred city of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. The pilgrimage has a long history of visual art attached to it. This exhibit will spotlight 12 artworks from the Khalili Collection's "Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage" using a gigapixel zoom, which will reveal the remarkable intricacy of the artisanship. 

Photograph of a Veteran Craftsman from Dar al-Kiswah (print possibly made in the 1940s from an older negative)The Khalili Collections

The Textiles of Hajj

The most iconic of the objects associated with the Hajj are the textiles offered to the Ka'aba. These comprised a number of different elements, including an overall covering (kiswah), a belt (hizam), the door curtain (sitarah) and the interior textiles. These were traditionally produced by master artisans at the Dar-al Kiswah in Egypt until 1926, when a factory that continues the age-old tradition alongside modern technology was opened by King Abdal-Aziz in Mecca. 

Sitarah (curtain) for the minbar of the holy sanctuary at Mecca Cairo by NAThe Khalili Collections

This Sitarah (curtain) for the minbar (pulpit)of the holy sanctuary at Mecca Cairo, commissioned by King Faruq of Egypt in 1946.

The Arabic writing "Allah" appears frequently on all Kiswahs. Here it is embroidered on silk in silver and silver-gilt wire over cotton thread padding.

Kardashiyyah by NAThe Khalili Collections

The panel, known as a kardashiyyah, is inscribed with surah al-Ikhlas (CXII), verses 1–4, around the invocation, ya Allah, repeated and mirrored in the centre

We can see here that this is black silk, with red and green silk appliqués, embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire over cotton

Four such panels were sent by Egypt every year. They were attached to the kiswah of the Ka‘bah, one for each corner of the building and positioned just below the belt or hizam.

The basmalah (as it appears in surat al-Naml, verse 30) in mirror script by NAThe Khalili Collections

The text, which is in mirrored thulth (a form of Islamic calligraphy), consists of surah al-Naml, verse 30: ‘It is from Solomon and is (as follows): “In the name of God, Most gracious, Most merciful”.’ The design is the work of ‘Abdullah Zuhdi, also known as ‘the calligrapher of the two holy sanctuaries’

As with many of panels for the Kiswah, this is black silk, relief-embroidered in silver and silver-gilt wire over card and cotton thread padding

Section from the sitarah for the interior walls of the Ka‘bah (1927) by SitarahThe Khalili Collections

Textiles in this style were traditionally placed inside the Ka'aba.

The design here is based on a style found in Bursa and datable to about 1800.

In the wider panels in thuluth script is the Islamic Profession of Faith, translated from Arabic as 'There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger".

In the narrower panels we can see alternating verses from surat al-Baqara (2:144) and Al Imran (3:96)

In the interstices the flask-shaped cartouches have two of the the ninety-nine names of God (sympathetic one, benefactor) with a third (possessor of glory and generosity) in the roundels.

The Procession of the Mahmal by Gio ColucciThe Khalili Collections

Prolific and eclectic, the Italian Gio Colucci, sometimes known in France as Géo Colucci, worked as a painter, engraver, illustrator ceramicist and sculptor. He travelled to Egypt where he practised as an architect in Cairo, and produced a number of paintings inspired by his stay there.

Whilst in Egypt, he depicted the procession of the Mahmal. The Mahmal was the ceremonial palanquin carried on a camel who was the centrepiece of the pilgrim caravan. It was the symbol of authority of the sultan of the holy places.

If we look closely enough, we can get an insight into the complex use of colour in his paintings.

View of Mecca by MuhammadThe Khalili Collections

Depictions of Mecca

This section will show how Mecca and Medina have been depicted in different styles and mediums over the centuries. 

Mecca tile (1659/1660) by NAThe Khalili Collections

This tile depicting Mecca has an identical tile on the exterior of the Rüstem Pasha mosque in Istanbul.

The small panel along the lower edge of the tile is inscribed with the name of its owner, Etmekçi-zade Mehmed Pasha

A closer look allows us to appreciate the material and craftsmanship - it is stonepaste, with a decorated underglaze in cobalt and turquoise blue, black and bole red.

Talismanic shirt by NAThe Khalili Collections

This extraordinary 17th talismanic shirt was worn my senior military commanders as a source of protection.

Depiction of the Masjid al-Haram (‘Holy Sanctuary’) at Mecca, within a decorative frame enclosing minute depictions of other holy sites in the surrounding areas.

.. and the Masjid al-Nabawi (‘Prophet’s mosque’) at Medina, within a decorative frame enclosing minute depictions of other holy sites in the surrounding areas.

Not immediately visible is that the shirt is inscribed with Qur’anic verses, the Asma’ al-Husna, and prayers written in a variety of scripts

A much closer look allows us to read the prayers and appreciate that it the shirt is cotton, inscribed in coloured inks and gold.

An illuminated Qur'an with depictions of Mecca and Medina on the opening spread by Amin al SalahiThe Khalili Collections

This 18th century Ottoman Quran was produced with ink, gold and opaque watercolour on paper.

The illuminated opening spread includes a medallion with a depiction of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca...

...and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.

Mouradgea d’Ohsson Tableau général de l’empire Ottoman volume 2The Khalili Collections

View of Mecca from Mouradgea d’Ohsson’s Tableau Général de l’Empire Ottoman.

A depiction of the pilgrims arriving in Mecca on foot and camel.

Views of Mecca & Medina, most probably from a copy of al-Jazuli’s Dala’il al-khayrat by IndiaThe Khalili Collections

View of Mecca by MuhammadThe Khalili Collections

Chinese scroll with the text of surat al-Hajj, a map entitled ‘Routes of the Hajj’ by NAThe Khalili Collections

A map showing land and sea routes from China to Mecca.

A depiction of Chinese pilgrims en route to Mecca along the Great Wall.


Chinese pilgrims travelling to Mecca by sea, drawn with ink and using Islamic calligraphy to form the ship.

A traditional calligraphic design used to express the circumambulation of the Ka'abah.


Large watercolour painting of the courtyard of the Masjid al-Haram by AslaniskyThe Khalili Collections

Signed by an artist named Aslanisky, this is a large watercolour painting of the courtyard of the Masjid al-Haram, with pilgrims around the Ka‘bah.

The belt of the Ka‘bah depicted here shows clearly that it is of the time of King ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (r. 2005–2015).

Credits: Story

All artworks shown in this exhibit are from The Khalili Collections. They are highlights from a collection of over 4,500 objects amassed over five decades relating to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam.

Collection Founder: Sir David Khalili

Collection Curators:
Naha Nasser
Qaisra Khan

Digital exhibit curated by Waqās Ahmed.

A comprehensive lecture by Professor Nasser D Khalili on "Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage" delivered at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies can be found here: https://www.nasserdkhalili.com/portfolio/lecture-at-oxford-centre-for-islamic-studies-26-february-2020/

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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