A Saudi museum uses filmed re-enactments and contemporary artworks to depict a key episode in the life of the Prophet Mohammed that led to the founding of the Muslim community.
The exhibition seeks to illustrate – and bring to life – the 1,400-year history of Hijra, when the Prophet Muhammad, threatened with assassination, undertook an eight-day, 400-kilometer migration from Mecca to Medina.
It opens to the public this week and will be housed at the Ithra Museum in the eastern city of Dhahran for nine months before touring domestically and internationally.
Most Muslims are familiar with the broad outlines of the Hijra story, although according to Saudi scholar Abdullah Hussein Alkadi, it has never been presented in such a powerful way.
It includes everything from centuries-old artifacts to modern drone footage, said Alkadi, who has spent decades studying the Hijrah and whose research formed the basis of the exhibit.
Ordinary Saudis “know that the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina — that’s all,” Alkadi said, lamenting the lack of thorough coverage of the material in schools.
It should also be eye-opening for non-Muslims who may not know the story at all, and convey messages — such as the need for tolerance towards migrants — that are relatable for all, Alkadi said.
“You have to have tolerance. Unless you are tolerant with all types of people – regardless of their religion, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their gender or whatever – there is no way you can live a peaceful life,” he said.
After three years of development, the exhibition shows works by academics and artists from 20 countries.
Short films by American director Ovidio Salazar show how elders of the Quraysh tribe plotted to kill the Prophet Muhammad, causing him to flee, and an encounter with bounty hunter Suraqah, who was offered 100 camels to bring the Prophet back dead or alive.
Museum visitors will also see a life-size replica of the Prophet’s treasured camel Qaswa, contemporary photographs from the Hijrah route and textiles from the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
Other elements are more interpretive, notably a piece by Saudi artist Zahra Al Ghamdi, whose work has previously been shown at the Venice Biennale and the British Museum.
For the Hijrah exhibition, Al Ghamdi spent five months dipping pieces of cloth in mud and clay and knotting them together.
The knots, displayed against a white background, are meant to symbolize the bond between the residents of Medina and the Prophet Muhammad and his followers.
“Through this work, I appeal to revitalize and bring to life this concept of brotherhood, which gives meaning to life,” she said.
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