Images of Devotion

The Holy Mosque in Mecca has been widely written about and depicted by both Muslim and non-Muslim travelers. The invention of photography in the mid-19th century offered a new way to document the Kaaba, its precincts, and its pilgrims.

The first photograph of the Kaaba was taken by Egyptian military functionary Muhammad Sadiq Bey (d. 1902 CE) while he was accompanying the caravan bringing the kiswa during Hajj. Other pioneering figures include Dutch scholar Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (d. 1936 CE), the first known Western European photographer to access the Hijaz and Islam’s holiest sanctuaries. During his four-year stay in Mecca from 1886 CE, Hurgronje instructed local physician Al Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ghaffār, who is considered the first Meccan photographer. The fourth person to have published pictorial reports of the Holy Cities appears to be the Indian photographer Mirza (active 1900–1915 CE). After them, many others from different backgrounds followed, all attracted by the powerful spiritual and historical significance of the most sacred sanctuaries of Islam.

Early photographs of Mecca are a unique primary source for studying the changes that have affected the Kaaba and its surroundings during what is perhaps the most rapidly changing period of its existence. These early photographs also enabled Muslims around the world — especially those who were unable to make the pilgrimage themselves — to share a devotional visual experience of the first House of God.

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Mecca and its Surroundings

Muḥammad Ṣādiq Bek (d. 1320 AH/1902 CE)

Albumen print, approximately 1880

Bird’s-eye View of the Kaaba and Masjid al-Ḥarām after a Flood

Gelatin silver print, approximately 1920

Arabia Album

H. A. Mirza & Sons (active between 1900 and 1915)

Gelatin silver prints, between 1900 and 1904