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Book: Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

Traveling to and far beyond the Hajj, the most well-known Muslim pilgrimage, the volume’s contributors reveal and analyze emerging contemporary Islamic pilgrimage practices around the world, in minority- and majority-Muslim countries as well as in urban and rural settings.

Pilgrimage is one of the most significant ritual duties for Muslims, entailing the visitation and veneration of sites associated with the Prophet Muhammad or saintly figures. As demonstrated in this multidisciplinary volume, the lived religion of pilgrimage, defined by embodied devotional practices, is changing in an age characterized by commerce, technology, and new sociocultural and political frameworks. Traveling to and far beyond the Hajj, the most well-known Muslim pilgrimage, the volume’s contributors reveal and analyze emerging contemporary Islamic pilgrimage practices around the world, in minority- and majority-Muslim countries as well as in urban and rural settings. What was once a tiny religious attraction in a remote village, for example, may begin to draw increasing numbers of pilgrims to shrines and tombs as the result of new means of travel, thus triggering significant changes in the traditional rituals, and livelihoods, of the local people. Organized around three key themes—history and politics; embodiment, memory, and material religion; and communications—the book reveals how rituals, practices, and institutions are experienced in the context of an inexorable global capitalism.


As a living tradition with a long history of intricate performances, rites of pilgrimage have been one of the most important cultural practices by Muslims around the world. The Hajj, as the largest annually performed pilgrimage rites and one of the first pillars of Islam, has represented the most significant religious duty by Muslims throughout history. As pilgrims travel distances and gather in processions of hundreds of thousands in Mecca, the week of the Hajj has historically come to include a set of ritual performances and symbolic displays that depict the lives of Abraham and reenact the monotheistic message of God sent to humanity through Muhammad. But Muslim pilgrimage is not limited to the Hajj. Together with other obligatory and non-obligatory rituals, pilgrimage practices include a range of performances that revolve around shared and, at times, competing sacred spaces, shrines or sanctuaries, spread throughout the Muslim world.

In definitional terms, pilgrimage in Islam does not necessarily imply a “journey” or “travel” to a “far” destination, but presents a set of individual and collective experiences through the act of visitation on a path toward discovering a spiritual truth. Pilgrimage is ultimately about self-discovery and the ritual culture associated with it implies the spiritual states or stages in which Muslims undergo while on pilgrimage. Some of the ways pilgrimage rituals and relics connect with a large body of Islamic practices lies in the emphasis on mythologies of extraordinary people, holy figures or messianic characters who embody the most spiritual dimension of the religion. And yet such spirituality entails material cultures, shaped in shifting historical and social contexts. Practiced not only by merchants, clerics, state officials and soldiers, but also ordinary people who have been a familiar sight on the roads to Mecca and other major sacred destination, Muslim pilgrimage has always involved a range of artefacts, objects, aesthetics, clothing, practices of consumption and communication technologies. Such public displays of piety combined with living traditions of visitation of shrines and sacred sites serve as a reminder of the complexity of such culture in the context of Muslims lives.

Focusing on the etymology of the Islamic term of “Ziyarat” (roughly translated “Pilgrimage”), pilgrimages understood by Muslims of various sects and branches as the visitation of a sacred space, relic, or a shrine of spiritual significance. In light of the diversity of Muslim communities throughout history, such pilgrimage culture has also included diverse practices that have ranged from the most popular in urban areas, the Hajj, to the lesser known ones in rural regions. In many ways, diverse Muslim pilgrimage practices also reflect the inner struggle of Muslim communities to (re)define Islam through devotional and performances charged with spiritual importance. Contentious debates and competing attributions within Islam have underlined how pilgrimage practices and their repertoire of theological and ritualistic definition can become forums of identify formation and competing claims to authority. Popular adherences to pilgrimage values and principles, at times invented in the course of history, can suit the interests of states in power and also social movements competing to undermine the position of the regime. Pilgrimage is about contentious claims to both spiritual and worldly authority in public life.

Yet as a result for an over-concentration on the Hajj rituals, many traditions of Muslim pilgrimage that embody such contentious dynamics have been marginalized in various major studies, although many anthropologists and sociologists have underscored the importance, vastness and diversity of non-Hajj pilgrimage traditions. In fact there are no recent academic works that bring together the dynamics of Muslim pilgrimage rituals into a single volume.

This edited volume seeks to provide a new and a comprehensive account to update histories, traditions and practices of non-Hajj pilgrimage and examine current attempts to reconstruct the rituals for the emotional, theological and even political energies used to be invested in the practices. Muslim Pilgrimage in Modern World will be the first systematic collection of researches on this area of study in decades, as it draws on histories and travellers, some of them eyewitnesses, on ethnographic and historical accounts to breathe life and so to offer a new perspective on the pilgrimage tradition in Islam. The volume seeks to bring together studies that broaden the theoretical repertoire of Muslim ritual studies and offer new insights on a major tradition in Islam.

The volume contributors are Sophia Rose Arjana, Rose Aslan, Robert R. Bianchi, Omar Kasmani, Azim Malikov, Lewis Mayo, Julian Millie, Reza Masoudi Nejad, Paulo G. Pinto, Babak Rahimi, Emilio Spadola, Edith Szanto, and Brannon Wheeler.

About the Authors

Babak Rahimi is director of the Program for the Study of Religion and associate professor of communication, culture, and religion at the University of California San Diego.

Peyman Eshaghi is a doctoral student in anthropology and sociology of religion at the University of Chicago.

Table of Contents

Part One: Rethinking Muslim Pilgrimage: history, politics, and transnationalism

Sacrifice and pilgrimage

Body politics and the origins of Muslim pilgrimage

The Hajj and politics in China

Pilgrimage and transnational religious imagination in the Muslim communities of Brazil

Red white, and blue American on Hajj and the politics of pilgrimage

Part Two: Embodiment, memory, and materiality

Pilgrimages of the dream on wings of state in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan

Shrines and pilgrimage in southern Kazakhstan

Economies of Piety at the Syrian Shrine of Sayyida Zaynab

Grave visiting (Ziyara) in Indonesia

Part Three: Communication, (new) media, and space

Embodiment and messianic experience in the making of digital pilgrimage

On mediation and magnetism, or, why destroy saint shrines?

Pilgrimage to a ritual

The fluid sacred geography of the Bogaras’ Muharram

Bibliographic Information

Title: Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

Editors: Babak Rahimi and Peyman Eshaghi

Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press

 Language: English

Length: 296

ISBN: 978-1-4696-5145-3

Pub. Date: June 10, 2019

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