Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World

Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World

Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World

Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World

Synopsis

Each year, more than two million pilgrims from over 100 countries converge on the holy city of Mecca to reenact the ritual dramas that Muslims have been performing for centuries. Making the hajj is one of the most important duties in the life of a Muslim. The pilgrimage-and its impact oninternational politics-is enormous and growing every year, yet Westerners know virtually nothing about it. What is the hajj and what does it mean? Who are the hajjis? What do they do and say in Mecca and how do they interpret their experiences? Who runs the hajj and what are their politicalobjectives? How does the hajj encourage international cooperation among Muslims and can it also promote harmony between Islam and the West? In Guests of God, Robert R. Bianchi seeks to answer these and many other questions. While it is first and foremost a religious festival, he shows, the hajj isalso very much a political event. The Muslim world's leading multinational organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has established the first international regime explicitly devoted to pilgrimage. Every large Muslim nation has developed a comprehensive hajj policy and a powerfulbureaucracy to enforce it. Yet, Bianchi argues, no authority- secular or religious, national or international-can really control the hajj. Pilgrims believe that they are entitled to travel freely to Mecca as "Guests of God"-not as guests of any nation or organization that might wish to restrict orprofit from their efforts to fulfill a fundamental religious obligation. Drawing on his personal experience as a pilgrim and a wealth of data gathered over the course of ten years of research, Bianchi has produced a fascinating look at the hajj filled with personal, candid stories from political andreligious leaders and hajjis from all walks of life. A wide-ranging study of Islam, politics, and power, Guests of God is the most complete picture of the hajj available anywhere.

Excerpt

I've written books before, but this one got its hooks into me and I fell in love with it. the project grew far beyond my initial ambitions because the people who manage the hajj—or try to—kept giving me more data and insights than I expected, and the connections quickly multiplied in each country I visited. Shortly after I made the hajj myself, I started fieldwork in Pakistan and Turkey. the results were so encouraging that I decided to make additional trips to Malaysia and Indonesia, and eventually to Nigeria and Senegal. I never set out to tackle a work of this magnitude. One step led to another, and I just followed the trail.

Why did I get so wrapped up in the hajj, and why did so many strangers go out of their way to help me succeed? the simplest answer is that everything about the hajj is magical. in many ways, it represents the heart and soul of Islam, Islam at its best—at its most humanitarian and universal, its most pluralistic and egalitarian. These are the very ideals that give Muslims such pride in their traditions and that also cause them great distress when they are ignored or negated.

That raises the second reason for my fascination with the hajj. Although we know that these ideals are real, we also know they are elusive. For all its dignity and nobility, sometimes the hajj seems like just another commodity or business venture, just another status symbol and pool of patronage. the hajj's contradictions are an open secret in the Islamic world. I was constantly amazed at how candid people were in criticizing hajj organizations in their countries and around the globe. Wherever I went, even the directors responsible . . .

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