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Visual pilgrimage through the ages

Embark on a captivating historical journey, retracing sacred steps of millions on the holy grounds of Mecca & Medina

By Heba Moeen |
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PUBLISHED June 16, 2024

Coffee table books are a sensation, a collector’s item; they’re more like jewels on your most cherished shelf or table at home, defining their presence through an anthology of photographs and in-depth information preserved in a hardbound cover.

With Hajj around the corner and those fortunate to be invited by the Almighty for this religious event, as well as those who have already performed it in the past, ‘’Hajj — A journey back in time” is in fact a value addition and can be considered a memento that serves as a remembrance for fond memories which either have been or will be carved in time.

As the author, Safdar Nensey very aptly mentions, “A grace remembered — A hope renewed” under the book title, you flip through the book to first see his dedication to his late parents and the humblest of acknowledgements for this project, showcasing about 200 visuals comprising of photographs and postcards of Mecca and Madina, thus describing through imagery the profound rites of Hajj which itself unveils a sacred journey of spiritual renewal and unity in the devout footsteps of millions.

Last year alone, it has been estimated that almost 2 million people who were fortunate enough to witness this experiential journey of their lifetimes, performed Hajj. In this book, you will travel through time as you see vintage photographs and postcards going as far back as the late 1800, while those who have once been the chosen ones from a few decades ago may experience nostalgia as their eidetic memory is awakened.

The sepia images hit home as you are reminded of how different the world was from the fast- paced life today. The present-day religious journey of Hajj has changed tremendously with advancement technology and lifestyle conveniences. One is enlightened with the fact that Masjid al-Haram [The Great Mosque] and Masjid-i Nabvi [also known as the Mosque of the Prophet (PBUH)] has gone through drastic structural upgrades in the past century to accommodate the rapidly expanding pilgrim base.

“Ka’aba, the most sacred site in Islam, is believed to have been built by Adam, the first prophet. Later, the Ka’aba was rebuilt by Prophet Abraham [Ibrahim] and his son Ishmael [Ismail] as per tradition. It is worth mentioning here that when Muslims pray from anywhere in the world, they must face the direction of the Ka’aba. However, one must understand that the Ka’aba itself is not worshipped. Rather it serves as a focal point that unifies the followers of Islam, regardless of their creed, color, or caste,” mentions the introduction, explaining a very significant part of the faith.

The vivid imagery would almost make you feel the pilgrims chanting “Labaik Allah Humma”, which means “Here I am, O Allah, Here I am!” as a way of saying that I submit to God and emphasises the continuous servitude to God.


“Through my book, I want to create a visual journey of the Hajj through the ages without adding extensive text or explanations,” explains Nensey. “Sometimes words cannot justify an emotion, or they can even be misconstrued. But images are reminders of history — they show things as they were, without being influenced by anyone’s viewpoint or way of thinking. The book is my humble attempt to keep the promise that I had made to myself over four decades ago, the promise of sharing my journey with everyone.”

History can be interesting and it all depends on how the storyteller develops interest among his readers. For instance, Nensey has given a brief background of postcards, mentioning what Omar Khan, author of Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj explained. According to him, in 1900, postcards served a role for people similar to what the Internet represented for the world by 2000. They were the earliest form of widespread image sharing, marking a transition from a modest thousand to an astounding billion postcards circulating globally in a remarkably brief period. This surge saw contributions from esteemed artists and photographers spanning continents like India, Austria, and Japan. The period from 1907 until World War I is also known as the golden age of the postcards.

Stereograph photographs featured in the book are equally captivating and offer a profound glimpse into what the world was like in yesteryears. Stereographs evoke a sense of longing and connection, even for those who have never visited the Holy Site or lived during that era. It's as though they transport the viewer through time, making one wish for an air ticket in the past to fully complement the immersive experience this book provides.

This being the first photograph from the gallery section belonging to the end of the 19th century shows a gathering of Muslims for a journey from Cairo to Mecca via sea. One can’t be grateful enough for the technological advancement and convenience brought about in the travel industry which has ensured value additions and shortened durations of journeys which were once considered arduous.

A photograph that belongs to the end of the 19th century shows the cover of the Ka’ba, Al-Kiswah being carried on a camel in Cairo, through the ritual called the Mahmal Procession. This cover used to be woven annually as a gift from Egypt, a tradition traversing centuries. The manufacturing moved to Mecca completely in 1962.


In one photograph, the late King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud is seen approaching the Hajar Al-Aswad, the black stone to reverently kiss it after having participated in the washing ceremony.

Travelling by sea was considered to be among the most common modes of conveyance for Hajj. The postcard shows a photograph of the Safina-e-Hujjaj passenger liner which was built in 1935 and was later owned and operated in the 1960s by the Pan Islamic Steamship Company Ltd., Karachi, Pakistan. It used to carry pilgrims between Pakistan’s Karachi port and Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah port. It was built in Hamburg for Norddeutscher Llyod and was finally scrapped at Gadani Ship-Breaking Yard in Balochistan in the mid-1970s. The ship-breaking yard is also a sight to behold if one gets an opportunity to visit.




A photograph shows Muslims gathered around the Ka’aba for Friday prayers in the 1890s, over a century back. Since then, the Grand Mosque has been tremendously expanded to enable and accommodate Muslims pouring in from all parts of the world.

An image from the 1960s and 70s shows what the Holy Mosque looked like in vintage vis-à-vis coloured form. Usually, grandparents who have performed Hajj during those years have even interesting stories to tell.

One picture shows the profound love of God and a Muslim’s obligatory duty towards Him as well as the deep love and respect for his mother to help her perform Hajj. Not everyone is fortunate enough to perform one of the five pillars of Islam on their youth; the gentleman on the right is seen walking towards the Ka’aba with his frail body. Some people spend their lifetimes saving up for this life-altering religious experience, hence one must pray to be the chosen one as soon as he/she is physically and financially fit as Hajj then becomes obligatory.

The Maqam-e-Ibrahim, located 13 metres east of the Holy Ka’aba and possessing an imprint of Prophet Ibrahim’s feet. It wasn’t until the Ottoman era that the Station of Abraham was built in the form of a shrine.

The book includes images that show the ritual of S’ay being performed which is done between the two hills of Al-Safwa and Al-Marwa. This being the fourth compulsory rite for the pilgrimage, be it Umrah or Hajj is a re-enaction of the moment in remembrance of the hardship endured by Bibi Hajra’s (Prophet Ibrahim’s wife) and she fought hard to find water to quench her son’s thirst.

A picture from 1900 showing the Mount of Rahmah (Mount of Mercy), alternatively referred to as Jabal ar-Rahmah or Mount Arafat, which lies approximately 20 kilometres southeast of Mecca within the Arafat plain. Rising to a height of around 70 metres, Mount Arafat is traditionally regarded as the site where Adam and Eve were reunited following their departure from paradise.

A picture of the valley of Mina from the 1970s shows pilgrims enroute to stone the Satan at each of the three pillars — the jamarats after collecting pebbles from Muzdalifah the previous night. In another picture, they gather around the jamarat to stone the devil.

Masjid Mashar Al-Haram, a mosque in Muzdalifah showcases the area where the Holy Prophet (PBUH) prayed during his farewell pilgrimage and is located between Masjid Al-Kheef, Mina and Masjid Al-Namira, Arafat.

Pilgrims gather to buy sacrificial animals after which they morph out of the state of Ehram by shaving their heads or trimming their hair, this is called Haqi.

Post performing Hajj and visiting Masjid-e-Nabvi, the Prophet’s Mosque, pilgrims are seen returning to their homeland.

Mecca has quite some historic sites and old mosques with a depth of history embedded in them and one must strive to visit these vintage sites which the author has described at the jewels of Mecca.

All in all, Nensey through this thoughtful book and visual representation has evoked the urge among his readers to visit the Holy land for Hajj and Umrah and garnered love for not just history but one that positively highlights Islam.


Heba Moeen is a communication professional, an artist and a wildlife photographer. She can be reached at moeen.hiba@gmail.com

All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the writer