Ladies and gentlemen - welcome to our embassy.


We are sitting in the majlis, at the heart of the embassy where we hold prayers every Friday. You will see that pictures of the Holy Cities of Makkah Almukarrama and Medinah Almunawara surround us.


This is particularly appropriate as we are here today to talk about the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah Almukarrama which is the focus of an exhibition being launched at the British Museum this week and to which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has contributed.


With us today is His Excellency Faisal Almuammar, Secretary General of the King Abdulaziz Public Library, and his team from the library who have worked in partnership with the British Museum.   


This exhibition celebrates Hajj and traces the experiences of pilgrims undertaking this inspirational journey over the centuries. It also includes important artefacts and archive material from the Kingdom.


Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam that all Muslims who are able from every nation and race must make once in their lifetime.


Through the exhibition you will see that Hajj has changed:  from a journey of great length and hardship undertaken by thousands, to the pilgrimage experienced by Muslims today, undertaken by millions.


Last year three million people from every corner of the world undertook Hajj. Many millions more visited the Holy sites on the smaller pilgrimage of Umrah.


To accommodate the growing number of pilgrims who wish to undertake Hajj a dramatic expansion of  Makkah AlMukhramma  has become  essential. The expansion, which we will also hear about today, will more than double the size of the prayer area around the Ka’ba, the House of God built by Abraham, peace be upon him.


Ladies and Gentlemen


Hajj is not just a physical journey: it is the most important spiritual journey a Muslim ever makes.


It is an extraordinary experience. We leave our homes, our families and our every day concerns behind us, and submit ourselves totally to God’s will. This journey is at the core of what it is to be Muslim.


Hajj celebrates peace, unity and our equality before God – men and women, of all ages, from every nation. It is a profound, life changing experience – it doesn’t guarantee a passage to heaven, but it focuses all Muslims on what is really important in life, as prescribed by our faith. 


It is our duty individually as Muslims to make this journey. And it is our prime concern as the people of Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, to look after all pilgrims, their security and welfare and to care for Makkah Almukarrama and Medina Almunawara.


Ladies and gentlemen


Our colleagues from the King Abdulaziz Public Library have prepared a small presentation for us now which I hope you will find informative. Afterwards we will have an open discussion and there will be an opportunity to ask questions.