Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavallinni,
Going to Mecca
Frances Lincoln, 2012,
Going to Mecca opens with the image of a family getting ready for a trip to Saudi Arabia, where they will be performing the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that is considered one of the pillars of the Islamic faith. We see the youngest of the three children waving goodbye to his parents and siblings. Still a baby, and not yet ready for the journey his family is about to embark on, he is staying with grandma.
Focusing on one family’s experience, Going to Mecca brings to life, with spare and evocative language, the long days of walking, the crowds (“...the city swells with pilgrims from all lands. From city and steppe, from island and desert, they all congregate...”), as well as all the places and sacred rituals of the Hajj, which for many Muslims is a once in a lifetime experience.
Cavallinni’s collage/mixed media illustrations convey the pilgrim crowd’s immensity and diversity in gorgeous high-angle perspectives—tens of thousands of people in all directions, different groups merging into one big river of humans.
The meaning of each of the sites visited and rites performed during the pilgrimage is explained in an end note that also offers highlights on the history of Mecca to help put the Hajj into context for those who may be learning about it for the first time. While the end notes are very helpful, the book might also have benefitted from a preface (at least in the case of non-Muslim readers, who may need a second reading, as it is, to fully absorb and appreciate it). Admittedly, this is a very small quibble with an otherwise beautiful, relevant and well-executed book.
Going to Mecca is a great introduction to the meaning and reality of the Hajj to Muslims. Non-Muslim children and adults alike will learn a great deal from it, and Muslim readers of any age will rejoice in seeing such a crucial element of their faith portrayed so beautifully and respectfully.