Brought up within the Bohra Muslim community of western India, Husain studied Urdu calligraphy and held an early interest in becoming a prayer leader of the Islamic faith. Richard Bartholomew noted that some of the artist's earliest works were passages from the Koran painted on glass but that: "The human figure has remained the prime motif of his art, the vehicle for his exploration of the nature and drama of reality [...and Husain...] accounts for this partly in terms of the Koranic injunction concerning the primacy of the human form." (R. Bartholomew and S. S. Kapur eds., Husain, New York, 1969, p. 36)
The Preacher at Mecca references the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, one of the 'five pillars' of Islam and a fundamental aspect of the faith and practice. Before arriving in the holy city it is necessary for the pilgrim to enter a state of consecration known as ihram, whereby the individual removes worldly garb and dons humble and prescribed, attire: two seamless white sheets for men or the simple white dress and scarf for women. These garments are considered symbolic of equality and unity before God, in deference to the acts of worship to be executed in purity. According to the Prophet Muhammad a person who strictly performs Hajj 'will return as a newly born baby, free of all sins.' Husain's central, otherwise undifferentiated figure has performed this ritual and attains an archetypal significance in the picture. As does the Imam at the far left of the canvas, gesturing to the brethren with his right hand and teaching from the Koran displayed, open, at the centre of the composition. Possibly recalling his earliest paintings on glass in The Preacher at Mecca, Husain combines sacred fundamentals with a vibrancy of colour and vivacity of execution on a grand scale.