The Hajj

Pilgrimage in Islam

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Eric Tagliacozzo, Shawkat Toorawa
  • New York, NY: 
    Cambridge University Press
    , November
     441 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Hajj: Pilgrimage in Islam, edited by Eric Tagliacozzo and Shawkat M. Toorawa, is a volume of extensively researched contributions on different aspects of the hajj: the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Rather than a mere border crossing or transnational movement of human beings, in these essays hajj has been studied through the lenses of politics, economics, religion, global health, development of transportation, and the emergence of narratives about this ritual practice.

The introduction to this volume proposes what turns out to be a successful exploration of the ritual and religious characteristics of hajj in its cultural and socio-political contexts (2). The investigative journey of the book begins with the history and evolution of hajj, locating its root in antiquity, before the advent of Islam, and tracing its genealogy to Adam, while also describing the journey to Mecca by means of transportation by sea, land, and air. It goes on to describe the infrastructure of hajj, providing details about the architectural history of both ancient and modern building structures in Mecca (including facilities for pilgrims); health and disease management systems deployed during the pilgrimage; and the economic and financial conditions of the host country. The section on performance focuses on lived experiences of pilgrims with an explanation of the ritual performance, the making of “new hajj” in the digital era, written experiences and oral account of the hajjis (those who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca), and visualization of the hajj with its many representations of the sacred landscapes.

There are four chapters in Part I, “Evolution.” Harry Munt describes other forms of pilgrimage that were prevalent throughout the Arabian Peninsula in late antiquity by investigating inscriptions on stones and walls. Fareeha Khan's essay “Why Mecca?" interrogates Mecca’s deep relation with Abraham’s sacrificial ritual. As Muslims believe that there is an eternal return of the original event—in Mircea Eliade’s terms—proposes that hajj is an annual commemorative practice in which Abraham’s sacrifice of his son and submission to God’s command, Hagar’s endurance in difficult times, and Ishmael’s obedience, are brought to life again. While Munt and Khan describe the early Islamic hajj, Travis Zadeh’s essay demonstrates the connection of the religious practice of the hajj with the political affairs of the state. Zadeh explores the history of conflicts between Arab tribes and traced their structural development in the buildings. In “Women and Hajj,” Asma Sayeed looks into the jurisprudential principles for the inclusion of women in the hajj and the conditions laid down by religious authorities. Sayeed's analysis of female hajj testimonies is the main focus of her essay.

Part 2, “Journey,” has chapters on different modalities of transportation for the hajj. Benjamin Brower, in “Hajj by Land,” is primarily concerned with the road projects stretching to Hijaz from different parts of the empires or sultanates over the course of the history of hajj. Most importantly, Brower takes up overland travel in the time of French colonialism and proposes that state control over the pilgrimage was intensified during this period, reducing the number of pilgrims and thus controlling diseases during the hajj. In “Hajj by Sea,” Eric Tagliacozzo’s explores the maritime dimensions of the travel from every corner of the world.  Robert R. Bianchi explores the history of travel by air to the hajj from South Asian and Middle Eastern countries and provides suggestions for the systematic management. 

“Infrastructure,” part 3 of the volume, engages with economic, health, and management elements of the hajj. Sylvia Chiffoleau’s essay on the economics of the hajj outlines the fiscal budget for the management of the hajj provided by Muslim authorities, critically looking at it as a “competitive and cynical market” (159). Her description of the economic status of the hajjis, especially destitute pilgrims, leads her to conclude that the “pilgrimage is not an exploitable resource for the country but a religious event in its totality” (174). Proposing two types of bodies, international bodies and bodies of pilgrims, Valeska Huber tries to connect the two different worlds together to understand international health issues related to the hajj. Huber argues that implementation of medical measures has reduced hajj-related epidemics. Though sanitation measures taken were part of the solution, Huber claims at the end of her essay that the “return of new global diseases” happened due to “the contradictions of globalization” (195). Saud al-Sarhan’s chapter, “The Saudis as Managers of the Hajj,” is a response to Huber’s essay.  Sarhan states that although there are conflicting opinions among Sunnis and Salafis, the hajj is now more secure than in previous decades, with well-settled administrative processes in place. 

“Performance,” part 4 of the volume, elaborates the ritual performance of the hajj, how narratives have captured these performances through memoirs and autobiographies, and the future possibilities of representing hajj in “non-Mecca” spatial and temporal relations via the internet and other media. In “Performing the Hajj,” Toorawa analyzes the meaning behind each practice in the hajj and the significance of its sacred places, along with the cultural and religious baggage the pilgrims carry. He explores every aspect through his own experiences of performing the hajj. Gary R Bunt's focus is on digitalization of the Hajj using the internet, social media, and “Hajj-pplications” on mobile phones (243). Michael Wolfe’s “The Pilgrim’s Complaint" takes us from the digitalized hajj to written narratives of hajj such as diaries and travelogues. Wolfe's selection of accounts shows the diversity of experiences which emerge from a single phenomenon. Juan E. Campo describes the history of representations of hajj in different materials ranging from written accounts to visual media (though there is little visual media used for the analysis in the chapter). More focused on the depiction of spatiotemporal aspects of the architectural structure of the sacred landscape, Campo gives examples of hajj certificates, magazines, and postcards. At the apex of modernity, the hajj took on a new form in photography before moving into the digital space Bunt treats in his essay. Campo notes that there is a limited quota for pilgrims each year; a modern mass pilgrimage is realized through mass media technology. Finally, Campo points to a lack of criticism among Muslim scholars regarding the radical transformation in the hajj: its aura of sacredness is far removed as “mechanical reproduction” of sacred space emerges (Campo here relies on Walter Benjamin’s terms).

The Hajj explores Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca from various disciplinary perspectives and is a wonderful reference volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Muhamed Riyaz Chenganankkattil is a doctoral fellow in the department of humanities and social sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

Date of Review: 
October 6, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Eric TagliacozzoCornell University, New York - Eric Tagliacozzo is Professor of History at Cornell University. He is the author of Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States Along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915 (2005), which won the Harry J. Benda Prize from the Association of Asian Studies, and The Longest Journey: Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (2013). He is Director of the Comparative Muslim Societies Program at Cornell, Director of the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, and editor of the journal Indonesia, and has recently served on the Southeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies (AAS).

Shawkat M. ToorawaYale University, Conneticut - Shawkat Toorawa is Professor of Arabic at Yale University. He is the author of Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur and Arabic Writerly Culture: A Ninth Century Bookman in Baghdad (2005), and the editor and coeditor of several collections, including The Western Indian Ocean: Essays on Islands and Islanders (2007) and Islam: A Short Guide to the Faith (2011). He is a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellow, an Executive Editor of the Library of Arabic Literature, and serves on the editorial boards of Middle Eastern Literatures and the Journal of Abbasid Studies.




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