Important Sites of Religious Pilgrimage

A BBC travel article in 2012 named 10 must-see pilgrimage locations around the world. You might have heard of the pilgrimages before, or simply learnt the famous religious story in class and can now discover how a village or town in 2018 can allow a religious person to feel closer to their faith by visiting a place written about in their holy books.

Location: Rupandehi, Nepal
Religion: Buddhism
Significance: birthplace of the Lord Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini, which soon became a place of pilgrimage. Buddhism has interesting ideas which we can reflect on when thinking about whether we are at fault for our suffering and if we should take care in our actions so not to harm others or ourselves.


Vatican City
Location: surrounded by Rome, Italy
Religion: Catholicism
Significance: home of the Pope and centre of the Roman Catholic Church. Currently Pope Francis is the man at the Vatican! He often brings to the world’s attention things we learn about at school, such as Christians being persecuted and the need for Christians to pray for them; how Christians should show mercy and compassion to refugees like the Rohingya Muslims; and that if you are fasting during Lent you should still be kind to others to be a truly just Christian.


Location: Saxony, Germany
Religion: Protestantism
Significance: birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was here in Wittenberg that the monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of  Castle Church in 1517. Unfortunately during the Seven Years’ War, much of Wittenberg was destroyed, but Castle Church was rebuilt in the 1800s and the text of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was inscribed into the church’s front doors. Inside the church you will also find Luther’s tomb. There are some great Martin Luther raps; film clips; animations; and mini documentaries you can watch or sing along to to help you remember the facts!



Western Wall
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Religion: Judaism
Significance: the holiest of Jewish sites. The Western Wall made headlines in May 2017 when the US President Donald Trump visited it and prayed there, and female journalist were kept in a penned off area behind male colleagues. It is a place where awe and wonder fills Jewish pilgrims minds and hearts.

Orthodox Jewish men praying in the  men's section, Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Old City, Jerusalem, Israel.


An Egyptian-American journalist called Mona Eltahawy recently talked about her experience of sexual assault during Hajj in 2013. Since then #MosqueMeToo has started to grow. Muslim men and women from all round the world have been using the hashtag and in less than 24 hours it was tweeted 2,000 times.

Each year about 2 million Muslims undertake Hajj which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Going on this special pilgrimage should not involve being inappropriately touched or having someone rub against you in the crowd, things which have been reported using the #MosqueMeToo on Twitter. Some women have said they were fearful of publicising the harassment and sexual assaults incase it fuelled more Islamophobia.

Reading the BBC article you’ll stumble across key GCSE words such as:

Knowing that Hajj is a pilgrimage and one of the Five Pillars is not enough for the GCSE. You’ll need to know what the different parts of the Hajj are and why pilgrims participate in them. This isn’t a waste of time because by learning about Hajj you’ll understand some key stories of Islam about Ibrahim and discover Muslim beliefs about faith and forgiveness. These short videos from the BBC are a quick way to get that information. Type Hajj into this wordpress’ SEARCH engine and you’ll find previous links for Hajj too.

Umrah is the lesser pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca, which may be performed at any time of the year, and isn’t one of the five pillars so you don’t have to do it in your lifetime. In May 2017 football player Paul Pogba went on Umrah to say his thanks for Manchester United’s Europa League win.

Tawaf (Arabic: طواف) is one of the principal actions of the pilgrimage and refers to walking in circles around the Kaaba in an anti-clockwise motion. Seven complete circuits, with each one starting and ending at the Hajar al-Aswad (Black Stone), constitute one Tawaf. It is an act of devotion intended to bring the pilgrim closer to God spiritually. It is the only principal action of Hajj and Umrah which is not associated directly with acts of worship performed by the Prophet Ibrahim.


The Hijab is one type of headscarf which Muslim women might wear to maintain a modest look so that their hair and body is not on show in public. Some people believe that what a woman wears can affect whether she is harassed in public. In Iran where women have to wear the hijab by law, a popular slogan on the walls of public buildings is “Hijab is not a limitation, it is your protection.”



Holy Sites in Jerusalem Re-Opened

Last Friday three Arab Israelis opened fire from a sacred site in Jerusalem which is called Noble (Haram Al Sharif) Sanctuary for Muslims and Temple Mount for Jews. Using automatic weapons the three Arab Israelis killed two police officers and were later shot dead inside the compound. The Holy Sites were re-opened today with stricter security checks.


The Arab-Israeli conflict is only studied a little in British schools as the focus is on modern wars such as World War I and World War II. We take an initial look at the subject in Religious Studies when studying about pilgrimages and how Jerusalem is contested and valued by Muslims, Jews and Christians. A short BBC video explains the importance of Haram Al Sharif and Temple Mount, and there is a BBC Pictures special about the holy sites, explaining how through modern history there has been unrest over who the site belongs to. The history of the sites brings you closer to understanding both faiths, with important stories for Jews such as Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac there, and Temple Mount being where people will receive redemption when the Messiah arrives. Compared to Muslim stories of Muhammad PBUH  having his Night Journey from Makkah to Jerusalem to hear in heaven from Allah about prayer (salah, one of the five pillar of Islam).

temple mount


A court in India has declared the River Ganges ‘a person’

It seems a bit odd to legally declare that a river is actually a person, but that is what a court in India has done in an effort to save India’s holiest river from pollution. The River Ganges is a lifeline to over 500 million people in India so making sure it isn’t ruined by pollution is vital. The court started by declaring the Ganges a legal person, and then it gave the same designation to a glacier at the river’s source as well as everything in its drainage basin: rivers, streams, rivulets, lakes, air, meadows, dales, jungles, forests wetlands, grasslands, springs and waterfalls.

One reason for saying that nature is a legal person is so that it won’t be necessary to prove in court that polluting the Ganges actually harms humans. Contamination on its own could be enough to make the case that it violates the river’s “right to life“.

The River Ganges is an important pilgrimage destination with the festival of Kumbh Mela taking place at different spots along the river. It is useful to know about pilgrimages at the River Ganges (read this: Hinduism6-Pilgrimage-etc) at both Key Stage 3 RS and for the GCSE.

river ganges

Banksy Bethlehem Hotel

The Walled Off Hotel by Banksy in Bethlehem is certainly artwork with a political message. Its owner says it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world”, while its 10 rooms get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day. Why? Well it is placed right next to the 8 metre high concrete wall which Israel has built to defend itself from terrorism and refugees. Sound familiar?

People stand outside the Walled Off hotel, which was opened by street artist Banksy, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem

The hotel opens to guests on 20 March, with bookings via the website. The media have swooped in to report on the hotel, with Channel 4 going for a tour around the rooms

. The team hope Israelis, who rarely see the barrier wall up close or visit Palestinian towns, will be among the guests, even though visiting means breaking the law. Israelis are banned from visiting Bethlehem and its holy sites, and even though the hotel is situated in an Israeli controlled spot, it is surrounded by Palestinian controlled territory.

“I would like to invite everyone to come here, invite Israeli civilians to come visit us here,” said manager Wisam Salsaa. “We want them to learn more about us, because when they know us it will break down the stereotypes and things will change.”


In Year 9 we have done a unit on war and conflict, questioning whether religion is dangerous, as well as a current unit on Pilgrimage which looks into the importance of Jerusalem for Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This has lead us to briefly study the Arab Israeli conflict and how Palestine and Israel interact. Newsround give a brief and simple background to the conflict, whereas there is also a BBC History page which catalogues the events from 1250 BC to the modern day. If you’d rather watch a video then VOX have a 10 minute quick run through of how the conflict arose, and in a similar fashion CrashCourse History have 13 minute video explaining the conflict.

If all this has peaked your interest in Banksy then:

Hajj brings most of Islam together

The scenes from Saudi Arabia when Hajj is on each year are always breathtaking. To see millions of Muslims together celebrating their faith and asking forgiveness from Allah, walking in Muhammad’s footsteps. With all the news coverage you can easily learn about this Muslim pilgrimage, one of the five pillars and about the numerous stories which appear in the Qur’an.


This year though there is a political story too with Iranian Shia Muslims not making the journey, partly in response to last year’s stampede deaths but also because of the conflicts in the Yemen which pits Shia and Sunni Muslims against each other. The biggest leader of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the grand mufti, who has given a speech for the last 35 years to pilgrims is this year not giving the sermon. Perhaps his recent comments that Iranians are not proper Muslims has lead to him sitting it out this year.

Knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims has become paramount to anybody trying to understand current world politics, never mind RE Lessons! The BBC iWonder pages gives a really thorough but easy to understand explanation. Or you could check out this Daily Express article for a basic idea.