Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

By Babak Rahimi; Peyman Eshaghi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Red, White, and Blue
American Muslims on Hajj and the Politics of Pilgrimage

SOPHIA ROSE ARJANA AND ROSE ASLAN

In the 2014 PBS documentary Sacred Journeys: Hajj, Anisa Mehdi, a Canadian Muslim journalist, takes her viewers on the pilgrimage known as Hajj with a group of Muslim Americans from Boston. The pilgrims come from diverse backgrounds, and all of them have different reasons for going. Although the Hajj is a sacred journey, pilgrims deal with mundane as well as sensitive issues. Amira Qureishi—a California-born feminist-leaning Muslim chaplain at Wellesley College—expected to have an uninterrupted spiritual experience. But when visiting a mosque in Medina, she finds herself restricted to a separate room for women, which prevents her from viewing the main part of the mosque, which has important religious significance for Muslims. When describing her experience about the gender segregation, Qureishi bursts into tears, caught between the emotions of love and frustration. Viewers watch her strugg le to keep her cool and strive for a deep experience while grappling with the gender discrimination that is embedded within the very structure of Saudi society. We follow the ups and downs of Qureishi and the other Boston pilgrims during their stay in Medina, shopping in the malls of Mecca and participating in Hajj rituals. The documentary offers a taste of how American Muslims experience Hajj and highlights the numerous challenges they face traveling as Americans in Saudi Arabia and encountering fellow Muslims from around the world.

In this chapter, we examine the travel narratives of several Muslim Americans who have made the journey to Saudi Arabia for the annual ritual of Hajj. In addition to building on the scholarship that exists regarding American Muslims on Hajj, we hope to provide some insights into the different ways in which they experience the journey. Although an obligatory pillar of Islam, only Muslims with the financial and physical ability to do so perform Hajj. This chapter explores some of the issues presented by U.S. society, particularly economic privilege, that affect the Hajj experience. In the United States, there are numerous Muslim communities exhibiting great diversity in terms of sect, racial and ethnic identity, and politics. Our contribution provides a glimpse into representatives of a few of these communities, which

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