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Hajj certificate

This beautiful scroll from the 15th century commemorates the hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca - by a woman called Maymunah. Illustrated with images of Mecca and other places of interest en route, it is a fascinating document that combines both religious and geographical information.

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Hajj certificate

A hajj pilgrimage certificate. Mecca, 15th century
British Library Add. MS 27566
Copyright © The British Library Board

What is the hajj?

At least once in their lifetime, every Muslim who is able to do so must journey to Mecca and perform the prescribed rites of hajj. Around 2-3 million pilgrims, dressed simply in white sheets and sandals, gather in the Saudi Arabian town to retrace the steps of the prophets. Male pilgrims shave their heads during the trip to symbolise the cutting away of sin. The hajj is always done from days 8 to 13 of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, Dhu al-Hijjah, to which the pilgrimage gave its name.

Why is Mecca important for Muslims?

The city holds the holiest site in all Islam, the Masjid al-Haram ('Sacred Mosque'), and was declared a site of pilgrimage by the Prophet Muhammad in AD 630. That was the year of his triumphant return to the city after years of exile in Medina. Inside the Sacred Mosque is the Ka'bah, a large cubical building said by Muslims to have been built by Abraham. In the Ka'bah is the "black stone", an object Muslims believe was given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel.

Muhammad is buried at Medina. While a visit to his tomb there is not a prescribed part of the pilgrimage, many pilgrims make use of their presence in Arabia to visit it, and other places associated with the Prophet's life.


Mecca at the height of the hajj, with pilgrims massed around the Ka'bah

What does this certificate say?

This 15-century illustrated scroll attests that Maymunah, daughter of Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah al-Zardali, made the pilgrimage to Mecca and visited the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in the year 836 AH (AD 1432 to 1433). The scroll as a whole depicts the principal stations of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Prophet's tomb at Medina.

This scroll belongs to a tradition of illustration which was concerned to represent accurately, and in detail, the Muslim holy places, and the artist has accordingly depicted and labelled each of the tombs and other venerated landmarks.

The portion of the scroll seen here shows, reading downwards: the sanctuary of the Ka'bah at Mecca, the hill al-Marwah (depicted as a series of concentric circles), the shrine of the Prophet Muhammad at Medina, and the sole of the Prophet's sandal, in which is written one of his sayings. The calligraphic bands of Arabic script are quotations from the Qur'an concerning, among other things, the hajj.

What are the other main holy sites in Islam?

Medina, where Muhammad fled in 622 AD, is the second holiest site in Islam. Next is the al-Aqsa Mosque, a little to the south of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, where Muslims believe Muhammad miraculously visited heaven on the horse Buraq.