British ambassador to Saudi Arabia converts to Islam

The Head of the UK diplomatic mission to Saudi Arabia Simon Collis converted to Islam and completed Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca last week. Collis is believed to be the first British ambassador who performed the holy trip.

The picture of the ambassador wearing white robes traditionally worn for the pilgrimage was posted by Fawziah Al-Bakr, Professor of King Saud University. In her Twitter, Al-Bakr wrote in Arabic: “First British ambassador to the Kingdom undertakes the Hajj following his conversion to Islam. Simon Collis with his wife Huda in Mecca. Praise be to God.”

The conversion of Collis was also praised by the ruling House of Saud royal family. PrincessBasmah bint Saud in Twitter wrote her ‘special congratulations to the ambassador and his wife’.

In reply, Collis thanked everybody for friendly messages and acknowledged that he converted to Islam after living among Muslim cultures for thirty years. The ambassador also revealed that the conversion to the faith took place shortly before his marriage in 2011, with Huda Mujarkech of Syrian background.

The UK Foreign Office confirmed the information but declined to comment on it saying that religion is a personal matter of the employees.

According to Pew Research, in recent decades, the Muslim share of the population throughout Europe grew about 1 percentage point a decade. Europe’s Muslim population is projected to exceed 58 million by 2030.

French exhibition captures the visual and visceral spirit of Haj

April 22, 2014

It is the largest exhibition ever held in France on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj, Pilgrimage to the Mecca opened at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Institute of the Arab World) in Paris on April 23, tracing its historical evolution and artists’ impressions of the journey through 230 objects. The items have been curated from public and private collections, including the Louvre, diplomatic archives, university libraries and the British Museum. The exhibition is organised jointly with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Public Library.

Elodie Bouffard, the assistant curator of the exhibition, says the intention is to recreate the route of the pilgrimage through a historical and artistic perspective, immersing the visitor in spaces that, through sound, video and photography, evoke a pilgrim’s day-to-day experience.

“We wanted to show both the collective nature of the Haj as well as its highly personal, spiritual nature. This is a journey that people make together, yet it remains ‘an individual experience’,” says Bouffard. “The exhibition is about the collective imagination and we wanted to enrich a discussion of the Haj through an artistic perspective, offering the visitor images of the journey and gathering that differ from those they might see on television or in the press.”

Exploring the rites and practices associated with the Haj, the exhibition seeks to shed light on the importance of this journey in a believer’s life, as well as its aesthetic dimension.

“The show is a wonderful opportunity to display the work of Islamic artists whose work we value alongside western perspectives. Much of the contemporary art on show comes from Saudi artists but there is also work by Iranian and Algerian artists. We were also keen to highlight the connections between France and the pilgrimage, for example, through the works of artists such as Étienne Dinet, a 19th-century French Orientalist painter who spent decades in Algeria. In 1908, he converted to Islam and undertook the Haj in 1929. Other converts whose work we have on show include the British photographer Peter Sanders.”

For more than 1,350 years, pilgrims have undertaken this important journey to the holy city of Mecca through four major land and sea routes.

“Along with the artistic scope of the exhibition, we’ve included many documents that focus upon the logistics of such an undertaking. For early pilgrims, performing the Haj was a perilous undertaking and many died on the way. Over the past 10 years, the number of pilgrims who gather at Mecca has grown to around three million, so certain architectural infrastructures have been added to cater to this number. A hundred years ago, Mecca could only hold up to 8,000 pilgrims a day. The exhibition also includes architectural maquettes of Masjid Al Haram, which show the development of the largest mosque in the world.”

Visitors are also invited to participate in the show: “We were so moved by the richness of pilgrims’ recollections of their journey when we were preparing the exhibition that we decided to incorporate the means by which visitors can record and share their memories. There is a part of the exhibition where we’ve installed what we call our photomaton, where visitors can photograph themselves and make a three-minute recording of their Haj experience. These recollections will then be uploaded to a freely available website. We also ask visitors to leave material souvenirs of their trip to Mecca. Sometimes these apparently ordinary objects have an emotional charge. In contrast, we also have on show valuable pieces: medieval art objects, textiles and illuminated manuscripts.”

According to Jack Lang, France’s former minister for culture and the current president of the Institut du Monde Arabe, the exhibition is an opportunity for visitors to discover some of the many rich facets of Islam in a country where Muslims represent the second largest religious group.

Fewer Dutch Muslims to Travel to Mecca for Hajj

25 September 2013


Newspaper Trouw reports that the number of Dutch Muslims planning to travel to Mecca this year has almost halved in comparison to previous years. 16 travel agencies in the Netherlands are allotted 5,000 visas a year from Saudi Arabia to allow Dutch Muslims to make the journey. This year some agencies still have half their visa allocations left, with the Hajj taking place in mid October. Trouw suggests that the economic crisis accounts for the drop in numbers, with the trip costing between 3,500- 5,000 Euros per person.

Major Mecca Pilgrimage Exhibition Opens in Netherlands

21 August 2013


In partnership with the British Museum in London, Leiden’s National Museum of Ethnology is displaying an exhibition dedicated to the Hajj. More than 250 objects from Indonesia and Morocco have been collected for the show, including 80 works from the Nasser D. Khalilii Collection of Islamic Art. The exhibition is to run from 10 September, 2013 to 9 March, 2014.


Most French view Islam negatively


Nearly three French out of four (73%) hold negative views on Islam, a recent survey reveals. The study, commissioned by the research agency Tilder and the Institut Montaigne for the French private broadcaster LCP, was revealed during a TV show called ‘Place aux idées’ (Space for ideas). Contrary to the dominant negative perceptions upon Islam, the majority of French hold favourable views towards Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism. Only 26% shared favourable views about Islam.

Whilst 52% of participants consider Islam to be a religion like any other, 40% think that the presence of Islam in France can be an enriching experience for French culture.  Accordingly, 77% judge the Islamic pilgrimage Hajj to be compatible with life in French society. 55% furthermore consider the consumption of halal food, the celebration of Eid-Al-Kebir (51%), the fasting during Ramadan (47%) and the upholding of five prayers a day (36%) perfectly compatible with a sound life within French society. Only 10% consider the Islamic veil, hijab, to be acceptable to be worn in public spaces. Additionally, merely 36% consider Islamic practices to be compatible with French law. Similarly, only 33% state to have deeper knowledge about Islam.

The survey follows a number of recent studies conducted on French societal attitudes towards Muslim communities and Islam in France. The consensus achieved by these numerous studies can be summarized to express a striking and rising amount of prejudice, fear, suspicion and xenophobia directed towards Muslim communities in France.

British Museum: “Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam”


The British Museum has opened its exhibition on the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that every devout Muslim must make at least once in their lifetime. It is the final part of a series of three exhibitions over the last 18 months on the subject of faith. The major exhibition on the Hajj aims to give visitors a sense of what this pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, is all about and, thus, lift the veil on a ritual that has remained very much a mystery to many non-Muslims. For more information on the exhibition, see: The British Museum.

Travel Agent in Birmingham Found Guilty of Ripping off Muslim Family Over Hajj Pilgrimage


A small travel agent from Birmingham has been found guilty of ripping off a Muslim family over Hajj pilgrimage package to Saudi Arabia bought in July 2009. As the Birmingham Mail reports, during a five-day trial at Birmingham Court, the jury heard about the family’s trip to Mecca and Medina that was blighted by a “catalogue of disasters” and then found the owner of the agency, Chowdhury Ahmad, guilty of one charge of fraud and three counts of flouting package holiday regulations. Ahmad was released on unconditional bail, but could be jailed when he is sentenced on December 9th.

CBC Journalist Chronicles His Hajj Experience

The Star – November 8, 2010

Canadian Broadcast Corporation journalist Muhammad Lila is chronicling his trip on this website to the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. The website includes daily updates, and dialogues with Canadians at the heart of Mecca’s modern transformation.

British Museum announces major Christianity and Islam exhibitions

Two major exhibitions about Christianity and Islam form the backbone of the British Museum’s plans for late 2011 and early 2012, it was announced today.

The museum will also borrow more than 200 objects from the recently rebuilt National Museum in the Afghan capital, Kabul, for a one-off show exploring the city’s historical background as a cultural crossroad.

The Christianity exhibition will be called Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe and will examine the central importance and veneration of relics. It will run in late 2011 and be followed in 2012 by The Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, telling the worldwide story of the journey all Muslims are meant to make at some point in their lives to Mecca.