The Saudi exhibition on Hijrah emphasizes the universal message of Prophet Muhammad’s journey 1,400 years ago
The path from Makkah to Madinah that goes through the rocky mountains of the Hijaz region in Saudi Arabia is not one that is traveled frequently today. But the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was forced to take it when he had to flee Makkah in order to avoid being persecuted for his religious teachings. This occurred approximately 1,400 years ago.
In what would later be known as the Hijra, he and his followers set out on foot for Madinah, which was located approximately 280 miles (450 kilometers) to the north.
The journey that was undertaken in 622 has been told through a comprehensive exhibition in Dhahran, which is located in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom, in order to commemorate the anniversary of the event that was the defining moment in the history of Islam. Through its focus on love, peace, freedom, tolerance, perseverance, courage, and companionship, the display intends to convey the significance of the Hijrah as well as its continued relevance in today’s world.
In an interview with Arab News, the head of programs at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), which is hosting the exhibition, Ashraf Ehsan Fagih stated, “We are targeting a global audience, not Arabs or Muslims per se, with this exhibition.” We are aiming our efforts at anyone who is interested in gaining wisdom from the timeless teachings of the Hijrah.
Ithra, which was constructed by Saudi Aramco and opened by King Salman in December 2016, is considered to be one of the most important cultural institutions in the Kingdom.
Ithra’s team dedicated three years to the preparation of the exhibition, which bears the name “Hijrah: In the footsteps of the Prophet” and will be on display for a total of five years. After having been on display at Ithra for the first nine months of the exhibition’s run, it will then travel to Riyadh and Jeddah before going on to other countries.
It was curated by Ithra’s in-house team of experts in collaboration with Dr. Abdullah Hussein Alkadi, who is considered to be the world’s leading authority on the Hijrah and one of the greatest living biographers of the Prophet Muhammad. Ithra’s in-house team of experts also contributed to the curation of this collection.
The exhibition, which is the first of its kind, details the chain of occurrences that led to the Prophet Muhammad’s decision to move from the city of Makkah to the city of Yathrib, which was the name of Madinah before Islam was established there, as well as the challenges that he encountered along the way.
The Prophet Muhammad, along with his father-in-law, friend, and companion Abu Bakr, and a small band of followers, fled to Yathrib after being threatened and persecuted by the Makkans, which culminated in an attempt on the Prophet’s life. Once there, he was warmly welcomed by the Ansar, or helpers, who were members of the region’s Al-Khazraj and Al-Aws tribes. This was the beginning of the spread of Islam.
Later on, the name of the city was changed to Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah, which literally translates to “The Enlightened City,” in honor of the donors.
“The Hijrah journey marks the passage of time and the beginning of the Islamic calendar,” Idries Trevathan, Ithra’s in-house curator of Islamic art and culture, told Arab News. “For over one billion Muslims all over the world, Hijrah is considered the mother of all journeys,” Idries Trevathan said. “The Hijrah journey marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.”
“It is the event that marks the moment when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers transitioned from being a persecuted minority to becoming a community within world civilization. It was the most significant event of his life, and it altered the path that history would take from that point on.
Before, as Fagih described it, they “walked the walk,” the team curated the exhibition by first extracting the story from ancient manuscripts written during the first century of Islam. After that, they “walked the walk.” The journey from Makkah to Madinah took the team approximately one month, during which time they followed in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad.
The exhibition was created in collaboration with the Prince of Wales’ Turquoise Mountain, a charity that supports arts and heritage in the Middle East, the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, the House of Islamic Arts in Jeddah, and the King Abdulaziz Complex for Endowment Libraries in Madinah, all of which contributed pieces to the display. The exhibition is currently on display at the King Abdulaziz Complex for Endowment Libraries in Madinah.
It features Islamic artifacts, contemporary artworks that were specially commissioned from Saudi and Arab artists, and interactive installations, photography, and videos that recreate the experience of the Prophet Muhammad’s difficult journey.
“In order to properly commemorate the Hijrah, we set out to design something truly unique and special. “It was unheard of for someone to leave their tribe 1,400 years ago, because back then you were defined by your tribe,” Fagih said. “When the Prophet Muhammad left his tribe, it was unheard of.”
“What took place was nothing short of a miracle in every respect. He left his tribe, was accepted by other tribes in a different town, and those other tribes accepted him as a leader of society.
To summarize what he had to say, Fagih stated, “The story of the Hijrah is full of miracles and struggles, which people from all over the world can relate to.” One of these is the experience of being alone. In the year that the Hijrah took place, the Prophet Muhammad was 53 years old. He was given a second opportunity, which he made the most of. He only lived for another 10 years after that.
The story is also one of humility, hardship, and beauty, and it is told in such a way that it weaves together the past and the present to create a fully immersive recollection of the journey.