Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

By Babak Rahimi; Peyman Eshaghi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Pilgrimage and Transnational Religious Imagination
in the Muslim Communities of Brazil

PAULO G. PINTO

Pilgrimage—understood as a journey toward a place that contains or embodies a specific source of sacred power1—became a significant practice among Muslims in Brazil in the last decade of the twentieth century, when a growing number of faithful engaged in travels to holy places in various parts of the Muslim world.2 Brazil has no Islamic holy places or shrines in its territory; therefore, Brazilian Muslim pilgrimage has always been about a pilgrimage abroad, usually to the Middle East or North Africa.3 Several factors concurred to enable the development of pilgrimage as a regular religious practice in the Muslim communities in Brazil.

A major factor was the opening of Brazilian society to transnational and globalized cultural trends.4 This phenomenon was connected to Brazilian immigration to Europe and the United States in the 1980s, neoliberal economic reforms in the 1990s, and the new diplomatic engagement of the Brazilian state in international arenas—including the Middle East—in the 2000s.5 Economic factors were also important, as the stabilization of the economy and the adoption of a strong currency, the real, in 1994 made international travel accessible to many Brazilians for the first time in decades, allowing many Muslims to travel in the form of pilgrimage by their own means. Parallel to that, many Islamic institutions began to use funding from Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the Gulf countries to sponsor tour groups of Brazilian Muslims to pilgrimage to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Iraq.

In order to demonstrate the impact of pilgrimage practices in the Muslim communities in Brazil, I will analyze here the practices and discourses that are invoked by pilgrimages in their various stages of execution, from the preparation of the journey to the telling of stories to the showing of pictures after the return of the pilgrims. This analysis will show how these practices and discourses have led to the reconfiguration of the religious identities of Brazilian Muslims within the framework of the transnational religious imaginations that were created through pilgrimage. While Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori correctly point out that “travel is pre-eminently an act of imagination,” we could add that in the case of the Muslims in Brazil,

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