Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

By Babak Rahimi; Peyman Eshaghi | Go to book overview

Introduction

BABAK RAHIMI AND PEYMAN ESHAGHI

The Hajj represents one of the most significant ritual observations for Muslims. Traveling long distances through various routes and gathering in multitude in Mecca, Muslim pilgrims perform traditions that date back to the first time the Prophet and his followers observed the Hajj on the morning of the fourth day of the eleventh month in the Islamic calendar in 629 c.e.1 Such traditions encompass several interconnected rites, many of which are symbolically referenced to Abraham and his son Ismaʾil, who, following Prophet Adam, are believed to have rebuilt the cubical stone structure Kaʿba, the symbolic focal point of the Hajj.2 Such traditions have varied in practice and entailed complex meanings, such as circumambulation, incubation, or drinking the water from the well of Zamzam. Similar to other obligatory traditions such as salat (prayer), the Hajj rituals are inherently compulsory undertakings incumbent on every Muslim, at least once in a lifetime. The undertakings implicate commemoration and covenant with God, whose blessing is sought during the performances, thus rendering meaningful the world and beyond.3

Ritual observations are reenactments of an expression of devotion in historical time. As a living tradition with a long history of intricate performances, the Hajj is the medium for expressing a set of repetoires codified by norms and conflicts in which camaraderie and competition prevail in shaping Muslim identities. As one of the largest annually performed pilgrimage rites in the world, the Hajj puts complex social forces on display— that is, affective ways pilgrims undergo change in social relations across local and global settings. Paradoxically, such social changes that heighten already fluid identities consolidate the social realities of pilgrims. Social dynamics for performing the Hajj entail various dimensions but, by and large, are tied to mundane factors, many of which entail stratified practices, such as gaining prestige, status, or material prosperity, especially on the return home. Departure and return to a perceived home is central to pilgrimage. A returning pilgrim stages piety through varying degrees of social relations specific to the locality where the pilgrim returns. The locality heightens how prosaically a returning pilgrim can be received by family, friends,

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