Today, a staggering 3 million Muslims travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. They come from all over the world and speak different languages but are united by hajj, the annual pilgrimage for believers. Muhammad made his hajj in 632, the year he died, and told every Muslim of sound mind and clear judgment to do the same. Arrival at Mecca, a visit only permitted for Muslims, signals a time for prayer, thanksgiving, and religious ecstasy.
The mysterious Kaaba, a cubic building housing a sacred meteorite which was revered in pre-Islamic Arabia, is the most sacred site in Islam. Pilgrims walk counterclockwise seven times around the structure in whose direction all Muslims pray; they later collect 49 small stones to symbolically cast against the Devil, and reenact Hagar’s fraught search for water by running seven times between two low hills.
In the spirit of sharing this collective experience with the world, the British Museum has launched an exhibition focusing on the history and memory of this famous pilgrimage and Islam’s kinetic heart. One item on display is the precise 2006 schoolbook diary of a 10-year-old English girl: "Words cannot describe the emotions that are created when one looks at the Ka'ba, such a simple object structurally yet so majestic and awe-inspiring."