Muslim Pilgrimage in Europe

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Ingvild Flaskerud, Richard J. Natvig
Routledge Studies in Pilgrimage, Religious Travel and Tourism)
  • New York, NY: 
    , August
     216 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The study of pilgrimage has been rapidly expanding in recent years, and its focus has grown broader: not only connecting the culture of pilgrimage to religion, but also to tourism, economy, politics, geography and others, offering more extensive perspectives and numerous options for researching this subject in the future.

Ingvild Faskerund and Richard J. Natvig’s Muslim Pilgrimage in Europe is a great addition to this literature, as it contributes in two ways to the field: First, it fills the gap in the research on Muslim pilgrimage in the West, especially in Europe. Most of the studies on pilgrimage in the West are focused on Christian pilgrimage and/or secular pilgrimage, while the investigation of Muslim pilgrimage mainly analyzes pilgrimage to the Middle East and North Africa. Second, it offers multidisciplinary approaches to the study of pilgrimage. This book thus proves that when many scholars with different backgrounds work together, more unique and broader analyses are made available.

Muslim Pilgrimage in Europe should also be commended for explaining three main ideas based on the contributors’ chapters: continuity, revitalization and innovation. First, the book explains the continuation of Muslim visitation into long-established pilgrimages in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly the hajj to Mecca. Second, it examines the revival of old pilgrimage sites in the southeastern Europe. Third, it critically points to the emergence of new Muslim pilgrimage sites in Western Europe. Fourth, it draws on Muslims’ desire to also visit non-Islamic sites during when on pilgrimage.

Chapters 1-4 explain how Muslims in Europe continuously visit Mecca to perform Hajj and explore how the pilgrimage is experienced, remembered, described, and spread to prolong the religious experience after coming back home. In chapter 1, Marjo Buitelaar, who examines Dutch Muslims performing Hajj, argues that the experience itself is important to them in order to find their true identities and provides an “anchor point” for facing and negotiating their daily lives in Europe where they are a minority. In Chapter 2, Ingvild Flaskerud describes how a mosque in Oslo, Norway, became an important site for delivering stories of pilgrimage to Mecca or Iran. It plays an intermediary role, providing stories, sharing sacred gifts from pilgrimage sites, and eventually providing rewards for those who are fortunate to win the drawing to perform pilgrimage for free. In chapter 3, Dženita Karić shows that Bosnian pilgrims’ stories on the internet about performing Hajj cover a broad range of ethnic communities and appeals to nationalism or religious authority. This young Bosnian travel writer also shows that Hajj literature is relevant to the contemporary debate on the role of Islam in Europe. Lastly, John Slight’s research on a British converts to Islam, who performed Hajj during the interwar period shows that there are some differences in religious experience based on race, social class, gender, and Western identity.

Chapters 5-8 describe the revival of old pilgrimage sites in Bosnia and Albania, as well as how those places play a role in shaping Muslim identity and religious experience. In Chapter 5, Tone Bringa and David Henig compare two pilgrimage sites (Karici and Ajvatovica Rock) in order to challenge the idea of linking religious revivalism with nationalism. Both authors argue that beyond nationalism, the event and place of pilgrimage serve as melting pots where prayers, blessing, and merit-earning are interconnected and interchanged, making them significant forces in daily life. In chapter 6, Sara Kuehn admits that the memorial of political events associated with ethno-religious identity is central to the revival of old pilgrimage sites. Examining the Ajvatovica pilgrimage in Bosnia, Kuehn says that its iconographical shape and interpretation serve as a symbolic repository to keep “the multilayered aspects of traditional knowledge of Bosnian heritage” and become a platform to (re)conceptualize, (re)present, and (re)negotiate the past. In chapter 7, Catharina Raudvere studies visitation to four secular memorial places in Bosnia as an effective way to build public memory spaces. It is argued that those visitations are heavily connected with politics and identity after Bosnian civil war. In chapter 8, Antonio Maria Pusceddu observes two annual pilgrimage festivals near the border of Albania and Greece. Revitalized in the 1990s, both festivals show that the revitalization process deeply affects people through economical, political, and social processes.

The last chapters, 9-11, describe the establishment of new Muslim pilgrimage sites in Europe and Muslim’s visits to non-Muslim sites and secular festivals. In chapter 9, Francesco Piraino identifies new pilgrimage sites relating to Sufi groups: Alawiyya, Budshishiyya, Naqshabandiyya Haqqaniyya, and Jerahiyya-Khalwatiyya, that are located in Italy and France. This new development builds on the desire to visit living saints, non-Muslim saints, and annual interfaith and intercultural parades. In chapter 10, M. Amer Morgahi reviews the emergence of Hijaz College in the United Kingdom and how the pilgrimage to this site shows the ways Muslims reinvent themselves in the Muslim diaspora to renew their Islamic beliefs and provide guidance to adapt to their social lives. In chapter 11, Manoël Penicaud examines the function of pilgrimage as a useful bridge to interreligious dialogue. Based on researching the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” site in Brittany, France, Penicaud concludes that interreligious pilgrimage provides potential for interreligious dialogue, especially for young Muslims who were born and raised in France.

Muslim Pilgrimage in Europe is therefore very helpful in explaining and providing knowledge about Muslim pilgrimage phenomena in Europe. It also highlights multiple important issues on Muslims’ living in the West, especially on issues of identity, religious revivalism, and interreligious dialogue.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Anwar Masduki is a doctoral student in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen.

Date of Review: 
March 13, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ingvild Flaskerud is postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oslo, Norway. Her main research interests include Twelver Shia rituals, their material and visual culture, the negotiation of religious authority, and Shia migration and regrounding in the West. Flaskerud has published the monograph Visualizing Belief and Piety in Iranian Shiism (2010), and is the coauthor, with Inger Marie Okkenhaug, of Gender, Religion and Change in the Middle East: Two Hundred Years of History (2005), as well as the producer of the ethnographic film Standard-bearers of Hussein: Women commemorating Karbala (2003).

Richard Johan Natvig is associate professor of history of religions at the University of Bergen, Norway. His main research interests are everyday religion in Egypt, especially the zar spirit possession beliefs and rituals, saint cults, and religious iconography among Muslims. He has published several articles and book-chapters on these and other issues, and is co-editor of Islamer i Norge (Islams in Norway, 2005), and of Metode i religionsvitenskap (Method in religious studies, 2006).


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