A show of peace and harmony


In London, the British Museum puts on an exhibition on the haj and all aspects of the pilgrimage through the ages. Nearby, artifacts of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms are on show. It is a place that unites people of diverse faiths and backgrounds.

English: A picture of people performing (circu...
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MECCA is a city of surprises. The landscape may be bleak, but everything changes once you’re within the city as the extraordinarily rich texture of the Muslim world unfolds around you, from the sleek magnificence of the Masjid al-Haram to the liveliness of the street markets and souks.

Ten years ago, when I first visited the Holy Land for an umrah swiftly followed by the full haj a few months later, I remember being enthralled by the amazing diversity of my fellow pilgrims: their weather-worn faces were redolent of history, romance and drama.

There were dignified-looking Persian clerics in their long flowing black gowns, ebullient West African traders who were tall, big-boned and wearing white robes, deeply tanned Tajiks and tens of thousands of Bangladeshi villagers.

Regal Sudanese rubbed shoulders with Baluch and Pathan tribesmen, haughty-looking Cairo housewives, Levantine shopkeepers, Javanese and the occasional European or American.

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(This is a video that Sean Hannity of FOX News has been trying to show that has consistently been blocked by the Obama Administration for several weeks. Watch it now before it gets pulled from the Internet!)

There was a moment when I felt as if the entire world was alongside me as I circumambulated the Kaaba.

Even back then, the city was undergoing tremendous change as increased prosperity in the Muslim world fuelled the number of pilgrims.

Roads and tunnels were being blasted into existence; buildings were being torn down or hastily constructed — a mishmash of styles that left me wondering what the originals looked like.

All of this came back to me as I walked around the British Museum’s very elegant exhibition titled Hajj: journey to the Heart of Islam (open until mid-April).

For anyone interested in understanding the haj, the exquisitely-curated show (in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Public Library and sponsored by HSBC Amanah) is a superb eye-opener.

The haj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, something every Muslim must do at least once in his or her lifetime if possible.

For many Muslims, it is one of the most important events in their lives, a journey to save and sacrifice for.

Last November, it’s estimated that more than three million Muslims converged on Mecca for the five-day ritual, one of the largest annual human assemblies in the world.

The British Museum’s exhibition is thorough and thought-provoking. Located inside the museum’s iconic Atrium, the exhibition focuses on all aspects of the pilgrimage through the ages.

The displays ranged from the haj’s origins and rituals, down to the long (and often perilous) journeys that the pilgrims were forced to take.

Indeed, much of the exhibition is devoted to the great distances and dangers that the pilgrims were forced to brave – crossing the Sahara and Gobi deserts or traversing the Indian Ocean.

Despite the diversity, there remains an underlying unity, an inexplicable oneness of sorts.

Of course, the ihram (white pilgrims’ robes) and the starkness of the landscape reinforce a sense of purity and simplicity of purpose.

But then again, maybe it’s also present in the determination and resolute faith of those undertaking the haj – a fixity of purpose that unites pilgrims whether they’re from Mali, Azerbaijan or China, not to mention the rich and the poor.

Having had my fill of the exhibition, I wandered out of the Atrium and onto the Asia exhibits in the gorgeously laid-out Hotung Gallery.

Artefacts imbued with faith were also on display here: Thai and Khmer sculptures of the Buddha stood next to bronze statues from Hindu temples in southern India.

And yet for some reason, I, as a Muslim from South-East Asia also felt very much at ease as I strolled past these historic items.

Could it have been because they were also part of my heritage and my past?

I also found it profound that the haj and Islam – a faith of complete submission to Allah – should be so celebrated in a museum, the product of the humanistic enlightenment with its opposing and single-minded focus on mankind.

Another thought struck me: the majority of the visitors to the exhibition were clearly non-Muslims, people of many different faiths who were eager and sufficiently open to want to learn more about Islam.

It occurred to me that I would have to wait a very long time to see a similar exhibition on, say, Easter or Hindu rituals at a major museum in a majority-Muslim city such as Cairo, Karachi or even Kuala Lumpur and this thought saddened me.

So, in a corner of London not far from the traffic of Oxford Street and the echoing courtyards of the Inns of Court, I came across an exhibition that united peoples of diverse faiths and backgrounds – uniting them all momentarily in a quest for knowledge, as a museum became a haven of harmony and peace.

Why Is Creativity More Important Than Capitalism?

Haydn Shaughnessy, ForbesContributor

Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

Do you know your creativity quotient?  Creativity sounds a little weak, a touchy-feely topic, but it turns to be one of the most important memes of the past 100 years, and very definitely ranks alongside concepts (or ideologies) like capitalism in the pantheon of big ideas.

I admit to being a creativity sceptic. When it came into vogue thirty years ago I cringed. Creative? What’s wrong with busy? Or dedicated. Or hard working. But creativity’s rise – measured by the use of terms “creative” and “creativity” in Google‘s nGram database – has been relentless for over a century. It is NO fad.

For those that don’t know it the nGram database contains roughly 4% of all books ever published, in the case of this data in the USA and Britain.

The problem of creativity – how to manifest it in disciplined environments – hasn’t changed much during that period.

But if you look at the chart below you can get a sense of its importance.  The use of “creative” dwarfs terms like technological progress and scientific progress.

In fact digging a little deeper I found out:

The use of the language of creativity is increasing when people write about scientific progress. Progress itself is a term in declining use, seemingly replaced by the idea of creativity, at least in the sciences. You can’s see that from the chart – to get to that data I examined the use of a variety of terms over the period 1960 – 2010.

The best Google nGram data goes up to 2000 but I checked search interest in these terms, post 2000, and the patterns continue.

The use of creativity is increasing in business and management literature, declining where people write about religion and education, and of course rising when people write about cities.

Jonah Leher’s book Imagine underlines the slacker nature of creativity but also it’s importance. Let’s face it the quest to be more creative as a society is as old as (modern) business.

Creativity is big in entertainment too, naturally, if entertainment is taken to include art and music but surprise, surprise the use of the term in entertainment declined in the period 1981 – 2000, while it increased in association with business and management.

Is all this just a reflection of publishers pumping more books out? No, all data is normalised.

Is there anything to conclude from the data?  The themes of creativity have been pretty consistent down the years – how organizations stifle it, how necessary it is, and how it creates risk.

The one lacking ingredient seems to be a creative answer to those problems, though I think we may be on the cusp of one (more of that later in the week).

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