Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

By Babak Rahimi; Peyman Eshaghi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Sacrifice and Pilgrimage
Body Politics and the Origins of Muslim Pilgrimage

BRANNON WHEELER

Sometime during the fifth century b.c.e., a gift of eight silver vessels was made to a shrine located at what is now known as Tell al-Maskhuta, some twelve miles west of the modern Egyptian town of Ismailiyah.1 Today the vessels are in the Brooklyn Museum. Along with the vessels were found a number of agate stones, which may have decorated a wooden box in which the gift was transported to the shrine. Holes in the stones suggest that they may have been used as amulets prior to their gold mounting. Three of the silver vessels are inscribed with Aramaic texts, the shortest of which simply gives the recipient of the donation as “han-Ilat,” or “the goddess,” presumably the deity of the shrine.

Inscriptions from other locations in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula refer to “Allat” and “Lat,” and the Qurʾan mentions “al-Lat” as the name of a deity worshipped by pre-Islamic Arabs.2 Herodotus, who traveled throughout Egypt in the fifth century b.c.e., writes that the Arabs worshipped a goddess named “Alilat,” whom they identified with the Greek goddess Aphrodite Urania but perhaps also with Athena.

The longest inscription gives the name of the person donating the silver vessel and identifies the goddess Ilat as its recipient: “That which Qainu son of Geshem, king of Kedar, offered to Ilat.”

As a tribal grouping from the northern Arabian Peninsula, Kedar is known from a number of contexts in the ancient world, including the Bible. Jeremiah 2:10, from the late seventh century b.c.e., refers to the Kedar as living at the eastern edges of the world. The oracle of Jeremiah 49:28–33, which may refer to the campaign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar against the Arabs in 599 b.c.e., mentions Kedar. Ezekiel 27:21 mentions the “princes of Kedar” as delivering sheep to the Phoenicians. Arabic sources from the early Islamic period state that the Kedar—named after one of the twelve sons of Ishmael the son of Abraham—is the tribe from which the Prophet Muhammad descends.

From the inscriptions, it is evident that the vessels were deposited at the shrine as a votive offering, brought perhaps by a group making pilgrimage

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