Monday, 5 May 2014

Toufic Beyhum | Mecca

Photo © Toufic Beyhum-All Rights Reserved
"...though neither Koran or Sultan enjoin the death of Jew or Christian intruding within the columns that note the sanctuary limits, nothing could save a European detected by the populace, or one who after pilgrimage declared himself an unbeliever."-A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855)-Richard Francis Burton
Mecca...or more accurately Makkah, is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and a site of his first revelation of the Qur'an. It is regarded as the holiest city in Islam, and a pilgrimage to it (the Haj) is obligatory for all Muslims physically and financially able to make the journey. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site as well as being the focal point of Muslim prayer.

Photographer Toufic Beyhum had the inside view to the holy site when he undertook his own pilgrimage. While photography inside the mosque enveloping the Kaaba is forbidden, he was able to enter the site with his camera, and photograph almost at will.

A rather journalistic article in The Daily Telegraph has more background information on his photo shoot, and it may come as a surprise to some of my readers that the inside of the holiest of Islam's religious sites is the only place in Saudi Arabia where sexes are allowed to mingle freely. Yes, women and men stand, walk, pray, circumambulate the Kaaba shoulder to shoulder...with none of this ridiculous strict segregation of sexes which is currently en vogue in Islamic countries.

I had the opportunity of visiting the Kaaba some years ago while on a business trip to Jeddah, and it left a deep impression on me as a place of piety and peace. At that time, the hideous newly built monstrosities surrounding the mosque hadn't been erected, and the Meccan skyline was still unmarred by the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, which is the tallest clock tower in the world.

According to the article, there’s a hotel nearby the mosque where rooms are $500 a night, along with a mall with a Starbucks and a Paris Hilton handbag shop.

Historically, it appears that in the 5th century, the Kaaba was a place of worship for the deities of Arabia's pagan tribes, and Mecca was an important trading destination of the caravans, carrying goods from Africa and the Far East passed through it including spices, leather, medicine, cloth, and so forth.

Toufic Beyhum was born in Beirut, and moved to London at a young age. He graduated from Art College and started a successful advertising career as an Art Director for multinational advertising agencies in New York, Dubai, London and Berlin. He exhibited his work in London, Berlin, Los Angeles and Dubai. He was featured in National Geographic Shot, The Independent, Esquire Russia, WIRED, BILD, Die Zeit, Der Tagesspiegel, Zeitung, Welt Am Sonntag, Complex art+design, Exberliner, Time Out Dubai, BMI and Emirates In-flight magazine.

Currently based in London, he's isworking on a film documentary called "After Tomorrow" filmed in Petra, Jordan.