From The New York Times
April 3, 2012By HUMA YUSUF
LONDON — As a frequent visitor to the British Museum, I can attest that its vast Great Court has never been as full of Muslims — declaring themselves through headscarves, skull caps and prayer beads — as it is these days. They are swarming the museum to visit “Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam,’’ the first-ever exhibit about the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. More than 80,000 people visited the exhibit in its first seven weeks. Moreover, it has fueled a much-needed dialogue about Islam in Britain, and demonstrated that cultural venues are well suited to host the difficult debate about multiculturalism.
The museum’s spherical reading room has been transformed with a life-size replica of the Kaaba, the structure at the center of the rituals in Mecca. The replica is adorned with sitaras, beautifully embroidered silk curtains that hang in the real Kaaba, and is surrounded by maps and archeological objects tracking historical pilgrim routes to Mecca from far-flung places like Timbuktu and Malaysia.
The artifacts that enliven the displays — illustrated manuscripts, maps, milestones, astrolabes developed to calculate the direction of Mecca, and plane tickets — reiterate both the commitment of Muslims over the centuries to fulfilling their religious obligations and the political reality that control over the holy sites in Saudi Arabia has long been synonymous with control over the Muslim world.