The pilgrimage to Mecca as mandated by the Quran (2:119; 3:90; 14:38; 22:28; 9:3), is an experience of purification and an opportunity to meditate on the “last day” and on divine judgment. Many ḥadīth refer to the pilgrimage, and often these texts emphasize the modalities, obligations and dispensations of the precept, along with references to the rites performed by Muhammad on the occasion of his visits to the holy House.
In his work Magnetism (2012), Ahmed Mater, an artist of Saudi origin, has offered his reflections on the pilgrimage to Mecca. A cubic magnet is placed at the center of thousands of imperceptible iron particles. A black cube similar to the Kaaba attracts the iron filings, creating a magnetic vortex analogous to the pilgrims’ circumambulation around the holy House. At the center of the work the magnetic field that attracts invocations, requests for forgiveness, and prayers of intercession is represented.
Inside the sacred enclosure there are no differences, everyone wears the same clothes; there are no distinctions of class or ethnicity, all are travelers in search of mercy. Interviewed by the media, Ahmed Mater recalled the words of his parents, “When you go to the Kaaba, you will feel like you are attracted by a magnet.” These words inspired Magnetism, an installation that reflects the religious experience of a people through the invisible power of an unseen but real force.
The circumambulation (ṭawāf) portrayed by the artist is the first prescribed rite after entering the enclosure of the shrine. Al-Ghazālî observes that every pilgrim who undertakes the practice of ṭawāf should remember the circumambulation of the angels around Allāh, understanding the Kaaba as the “Throne of the Most High.” It must be understood in the spiritual sense of a circumambulation of the heart, the turning of one’s entire existence in the presence of God.
The Sufi tradition, while faithful to the penitential dimension of the pilgrimage, attends to the spiritual metaphor which underpins it. The sacred passage toward Mecca must be understood as an encounter with the God of the Kaaba rather than with the Kaaba of God; it is a pilgrimage directed to the sanctuary of one’s own interiority: “O People who have gone on pilgrimage! Where are you? The Beloved is here, come back, come back! The Beloved is your neighbor, you live wall to wall. What idea did you have of wandering in the desert of Arabia? Upon closer inspection, the formless form of the Beloved, the Master and the house and the Kaaba are, in fact, you yourselves!” (Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī).
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no. 7 art. 7, 0721: 10.32009/22072446.0721.7