EACH DAY, EACH YEAR, masses congregate at Mecca, the holy city in the Hejaz, in the West of Saudi Arabia. A hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, is considered obligatory to practicing Muslims and observers of the Islamic faith. Every year on the twelfth Muslim lunar month, pilgrims circle the kaaba in the tawaf ritual, to kiss the Black Stone located in the centre of the Grand Mosque, the central subject of the site.
Entering Mecca disciples leave all their materialistic belongings behind and enter in identical white robes, an act that symbolically means they are viewed as equals in the eyes of God. In this sacred uniform, a man who has saved all his life to visit Mecca could be praying next to a billionaire.
This series of images by photographer Toufic Beyhum, taken on a journey to Mecca in 2011, show a scene of ritual and tradition, nestled in the modern surrounds of Saudi Arabia. The holy site used to be a main trading centre where people from Africa, Arabia and Asian would come to sell their wares; textiles, jewellery, furniture and decorative objects. Nowadays the area has seen radical change with Saudi Arabia’s growing economy and the steady flow of tourists to the area. The original marketplace surrounds have transformed into luxury hotels and high-end malls, one that even houses Paris Hilton’s first shop.
From a distance, the clothed figures within the Al-Masjid al-Haram – the Grand Mosque – most of whom are dressed in black and white, read like a pointillist painting, a swathe of bodies in traditional Islamic dress that fill the walled space around the Black Stone in the kaaba. Groups in similar coloured garments form patterns in the crowd. Different nationalities dress in their own cultural clothes; for instance, the Muslim women from the Gulf region often wear black, but visitors from places such as Africa, India and Pakistan tend to wear more colourful robes, or abayas. A cultural, not religious, distinction.
The colour variations and adaptations of the traditional robes in the images of the vast crowds of pilgrims Mecca reflect cultural nuances, but a tremendous collective identity within the Islamic faith.
Toufic Beyhum is a London-based photographer freelance creative director, the images we feature here are selected from his ‘Mecca’ series taken in Saudi Arabia in 2011, and can be viewed on his website.