Muslims throughout the world celebrate the Festival of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) from the 10th-12th of the month, this year on October 26-28.
As one of the five pillars that define the fundamental obligations of Islam, the Hajj is considered to be the climactic religious experience of a Muslim’s lifetime. According to Islamic law and tradition, a Muslim is required to set out for the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during his or her lifetime, if s/he has the financial means to do so. Throughout history, the pilgrimage was a great converging point of Muslims from across the world – and a place where scholars would meet and study together. Thus, Mecca became the backdrop of great exchanges of texts and writings and a central place of scholarship. Moreover, the Ka‘ba, the central place of worship and the place to which Muslims across the world direct their prayers, has served as a place of inspiration for pilgrims and scholars alike.
In honor of the Hajj period and the celebration of the Festival of the Sacrifice, the National Library presents an exhibition of selected illustrations of the Ka’ba in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, both found in manuscripts of the book, “The Signs of benefits and the brilliant bursts of light in the recitation of prayers on the chosen prophet (in transliterated Arabic: Dala’il al-khayrat wa-shawariq al-anwar fi dhikr salat ‘ala nabi al-mukhtar). The text was composed by the Sufi/mystic, Muhammad b. Sulayman al-Juzuli (d. 1465).
The book is one of the most famous medieval compositions of blessings on the Prophet Muhammad, and functions as a Muslim prayer manual. The Yahuda collection at the National Library contains manuscripts of “Dala’il al-khayrat” from across the Muslim world. In almost all the manuscripts, one finds two illustrations – one of the Ka’ba and the Holy Mosque in Mecca and the other of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. We present here a selection of manuscripts from Turkey, India and North Africa.
The illustrations reflect the broad spectrum of cultures and perspectives that make up the Muslim world. In some cases, the holy sites are represented schematically, akin to symbols on a map. In other manuscripts, the sites are depicted more realistically in the midst of their surrounding geographic landscapes and take on elements of a painting or portrait. A third style incorporates the realistic elements of the portrait and adds perspective – as if we are approaching the holy sites from a distance – thereby creating an almost three-dimensional look. In the third style, one detects the influence of European painting particularly in the attention to the surrounding landscape, hills, valleys, the sky and the horizon. In contrast, in the more symbolic illustrations, that are similar to a map, one finds more of an emphasis on identifying the items within the holy site, demonstrated by written labels for items such as the Prophet’s lectern or the grave sites of the Prophet and others. Across many of the illustrations, we can delight in the attention to detail in the depiction of windows, lanterns, and entrances to courtyards among other elements.