Pilgrimage Christian Muslim Essay Research Paper A

Pilgrimage /Christian, Muslim Essay, Research Paper

A Study of the Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

And the Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca

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Prepared for:

SSC 231 Cultural Conflict and Human Solidarity

University College Utrecht

May 2001


A French folklorist and ethnographer, Arnold Van Gennep (1908-1960) gave us the first clues about how ancient and tribal societies conceptualized and symbolized the transitions men have to make between states a statuses . He demonstrated that all rites of passage are marked by three phases: separation, limen or margin, and aggregation. By identifying liminality Van Gennep discovered a major innovative, transformative dimension of the social. He is credited for paving the way for future studies of all processes of spatiotemporal social or individual change. Various researchers have studied the study focus of this paper, the pilgrimage, yet Van Gennep led us to recognizing the significance in such cultural, religious behavior. The two religious pilgrimages to be discussed in this paper are both the Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Although these religions differ, they are none the less the two largest religions in the world and both take part in pilgrimages which demonstrate how close the two religions may be in their general beliefs and actions. Moreover, the pilgrimage ultimately serves as a channel for ?communitas? and brings people to an end goal after a journey, which highly represents life. The end goal for both religions is salvation from their almighty God. Because Christianity is very familiar in the West, I will use it as a starting block for comparisons.

To begin with, we should grasp an underlying image and idea of the pilgrimage. Firstly, there is an undoubtedly initiatory quality in the pilgrimage. A pilgrim enters into a new, deeper level of existence than he has previously known. Furthermore, the pilgrims? goal is salvation or release from the sins and evils of the structural world and he prepares himself for participation in afterlife bliss. Through the power of ritual, sacrifice and use of symbols in pilgrimages, a likeness and common intention is converted into commonness of feeling, into ?communitas?. Therefore, the pilgrimage has attributes of liminality in passage rites: release from mundane structure; homogenization of status; simplicity of dress or behavior; communitas; ordeal and reflection on religious and cultural values. Because pilgrimage is not necessarily mandatory (can be argued for Muslims), it is best described as quasi-liminal, rather than liminal in Van Gennep?s full sense. The pilgrimage is indeed an amazing phenomenon, which brings people together at a common goal, which is believed to be the essence or starting point of life and the ?door? to the afterlife. As we will discover, pilgrimages require great sacrifice, both financially and physically. Pilgrimages may give the impression of an act that is traditional and not ?fit? for our modern world. However, one who has not walked the pilgrimage may never see the insight that the pilgrims themselves see. One fact is certain and striking. The numbers of pilgrims at the world?s major shrines are still increasing.

Journey and Sacrifice

The actual journey of the pilgrim to his destination has proven to be a vital part in the transformation and transition of the pilgrim. It is in this journey where most of the sacrifice takes place in a goal to follow the footsteps of either Jesus or Muhammad and the other prophets. In both Christianity and Islam, the pilgrimage entails both physical and financial sacrifice. In John Bunyan?s classic protestant allegory, The Pilgrim?s Process? the story is told of a Christian who left home with a burden and a book. The burden is a symbol for original sin, while the book represents the Bible. The pilgrimage to the Holy Land is meant to serve as following Christ in every way possible, through both morals and geography in order to free the self of original sin. In the Bible, Jesus is recorded to have called his apostles to ?follow me? (Matthew 4:19) and in his journey with the travelers to Emmaus after the resurrection (Luke 24:13-35). These stories came to be associated with the pilgrimage in God?s call for his people to follow him to the Holy Land. The Muslim journey will be dealt with following the Christian journey, however, in both Islam and Christianity there is a ?pull? that came to be associated with the sacred places. St. Jerome?s account of the travels of Paula, a noblewoman from Rome, captures the powerful pull pilgrims describe.

With a zeal and courage unbelievable in a woman she forgot her sex and her physical weakness, and longed to make there, amongst those thousands of monks, a dwelling for herself?And she might have done so, if she had not been summoned away by a still greater longing for the holy places?

(letter 108,14,3)

The main motive for pilgrims, both Christian and Muslim is a desire to see and touch the places where Christ or Mohammed were present in body. Moreover, it serves as a reassurance of their God?s existence and presence. The Bordeaux pilgrimage in Christianity traveled about 20 miles a day, making his return trip a total of one year while only spending three months of that year in the Holy Land. Muslim pilgrims do the same, often by camel or foot, with entire families making the journey, requiring financial funds, courage and very hard physical work. The West African Muslims are often in permanent pilgrimage. They devote their entire lives to the pilgrimage and often the opportunity never arises for them to complete their journey. They are known as ?a society on the move? and often live in permanent transition, halfway between Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and their homes. Pilgrims traveled in groups, primarily for the reasons of safe travel, however over time this group travel became a vital factor in the pilgrimage. Therefore, both Christianity and Islam bred an ideology of solidarity with other pilgrims. There is an equality created on the pilgrimage, where class or social status is erased.

At the same time from all over the world an innumerable crowd began to flock to the Sepulchre of the Saviour in Jerusalem ? in greater numbers than anyone before had thought possible. Not only were there some of the common people and of the middle class, but there were also several very great kings, counts and noblemen?many noble ladies et out with the poor people.?

For Christians, the journey itself became an act of worship as reported by Gregory of Nyssa: ?Our carriage was, in fact, as good as a church or monastery to us, for all of us were singing psalms and fasting during the whole journey? In order to guard against bodily temptations, the Christian pilgrims stayed in monastic accommodations on route. There were official rest houses provided for Christian pilgrims.

We shall now take a closer look at the journey and sacrifice of the Muslim pilgrims, although some vital information has been mentioned above. It is best to begin with a quote from the Koran: ?Surely, the first House established for the benefit of all mankind is the one at Mecca, abounding in blessings and a means of guidance for all peoples? (3:97) . Already, the importance of Mecca, and the visitation of Mecca becomes clear to the reader. Even in the West, Mecca is used as a metaphor for the fulfillment of aspirations. However, in Muslim religion it is a sacred space reserved purely for the umma (people of Islam). Unlike Christianity, the Islam faith actually requires its followers to go on the pilgrimage, provided that health and funds permit them to do so. The Koran states that ?Pilgrimage to the House is a duty laid upon the people which they owe to Allah, those of them that can afford the journey thither? (3:98). The house the Koran referred to here is the Ka?ba, which is the house of Allah. The hajj is the actual pilgrimage, which literally means ?the effort?. Ten percent of 600-700 million Muslims make the journey to Mecca each year. However, thoughts of the entire umma are likely to be with the one or two million who go each year. Like the Christians attain to follow the steps of Christ in every sense, the Muslims perform the hajj to follow the footsteps of their prophets, Adam, Abraham and Mohammed. Again, the arrival at Mecca is only the center point of a process that can take weeks or years. The ezzan (call to prayer) is said to beckon Muslims not only to pray but also to turn to the Holy City as Mecca as the center object.


the call is inescapable?that sound, repeated five times a day every day, every year, all of one?s life, makes inroads on the brain. One begins to adjust one?s own rhythm to the call and not the clock, adjusting also to the intervals between calls?that point on the horizon that speaks so eloquently of things unseen and organized orientation in space as well as time?.

The hajj is usually performed by older villagers (prevalent in hac Turkish Muslims) as the journey is interpreted as a ?conclusion? to the villagers life-cycle. For Malcolm X who made the journey to Mecca in 1964, the journey essentially began for him as an individual travelling alone. However, he too was overwhelmed by the strong sense of solidarity and was forced to perceive the journey as something different.

?I have just visited the Holy City of Mecca and witnessed pilgrims of all colors, from every part of this earth, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood like I?ve never witnessed during my entire life in America. It is truly a wonderful gift to behold.?

Reaching the Sacred Space: Symbols and Rituals

We have established the importance of the journey, and we now must take a closer look at the central goal and aim of the journey; the time spent in Jerusalem in the Christian Holy Land or in Saudi Arabia, where Mecca is found. Both sacred places are flooded with rituals and symbols reflecting the pilgrims? faith. First let us take a look at the Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Land and subsequently we will examine the hajj. The biblical story of Jesus is told through topography, by walking through the cities which where once occupied by Jesus and his followers and recorded in the Bible. The Holy Land has been transformed and changed in accordance with the interpretations of Bible text. For example, the Site of Transfiguration was first on the Mount of Olives (AD 333) and was later moved to Mount Tabor (AD 348), while the tombs of Joshua and Jonah were duplicated and existed in competition with each other! The Bible served as a landscape and relic for ?visible proofs? of the existence of Jesus. Of course, there were also many objects and relics, which are used as living proofs of Christ for pilgrims, strengthening their beliefs and bringing them closer to God. The plate, which carried the head of John the Baptist can be found in the Holy Land along with the horn with which David was anointed king and Jesus? crown of thorns can be found in the Sion Basilica. Miracles are often associated with the objects and relics found in the Holy Land. There is an account taken of an anonymous Italian pilgrim who writes about his confrontation with the True Cross:

In the courtyard of the basilica is a small room where they keep the Wood of the Cross. We venerated it with a kiss?.At the moment when the Cross is brought out of this small room for veneration, and arrives in the court to be venerated, a star appears in the sky, and comes over the place where they lay the Cross. It stops overhead whilst they are venerating the Cross, and they offer oil to be blessed in little flasks. When the mouth of one of the little flasks touches the Wood of the Cross, the oil instantly bubbles over, and unless it is closed very quickly it all spills out. When the cross is put back into its place, the star also vanishes, and appears no more once the Cross has been put away.

From the miraculous events recorded from the relics, small blessings or souvenirs are available to purchase. For example, little flasks of oil, lead or clay ampulae filled with water from the Jordan and boxes with earth from a sacred tomb. These all became Talismans for warding off evil and they were used as articles for medieval healing and medicine. Pilgrims are also known to leave gifts at sacred spots as a sign of appreciation or sacrifice and devotion to their God. Upon arrival in the Holy Land, Christian pilgrims are handed over to Priests and Monks who are their guides and interpreters and also provide liturgy during their stay. The pilgrimage of the Holy Land, made up of sites traditionally connected with the life, teaching and death of Jesus, was in effect transferred to Europe in the form of shrines dedicated to different aspects of Jesus and Mary and often reputed to be of miraculous or apparitional origin. The result was pilgrimage polycentrism, in a multilingual Europe. In other words, many shrines were founded, in many linguistic and cultural regions, as though to compensate for the lost shrine in Palestine, where Jesus? life and death had been mapped on a limited cultural space. This character of polycentrism, is quite unique to the Christian pilgrimage.

The Muslim pilgrimage is concentrated in Mecca, which lies on a strip of land along the last coast of the Red Sea that the Koran calls the ?unfruitful? valley. It was here that the prophet Muhammad was given a final revelation from God. Moreover, it is said that Allah chose the Arabian peninsula as the location of the origin of the world and to have created the rest of the earth in a series of concentric circles leading away from what became, literally ?the navel of the earth? . While, Adam, Abraham and Muhammad all occupied Mecca, it was Muhammad who established foundations of Islamic faith, embodied the tradition and recorded texts called hadiths, which became the model for all Muslims. Of the five pillars of faith, the last is the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is required only once in a lifetime to confirm the believer?s identity. The rituals and ceremonies of the Muslims in Mecca, like those of the Christians, entail prayer in large groups and community worship, which can promote solidarity through Muscular bonding as displayed by McNeill. Upon arrival at the House of Allah (ka?ba) one is required to strip themselves of all marks of identity except those that mark allegiance to Islam. Malcolm X expresses this feeling of Unity derived from the removal of all marks of identity in the following quote:

This would be an anthropologist?s paradise. Every specimen of humanity is brought together at Mecca during this pilgrimage. It?s probably the only incident and the only time and the only place on earth where you can find every specimen of humanity ? all cultures, all races?all of everything.

Around religious sights in Mecca there is a protected sacred area (haram) in which the spilling of blood is not permitted. Pilgrims today are still expected to respect the ?puritan? standards of behavior, avoiding alcohol and unseemly forms of dress much like the modern Christian pilgrims. The hajj is carried out between the eighth and thirteenth days of the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar bringing it to a close. This closely resembles a Christian pilgrimage to Rome at Christmas or to Jerusalem at Easter. The purpose of the hajj is to draw the community of believers together not only in a single place, but during a single, sacred time. A pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year other than hajj is viewed as a ?lesser? pilgrimage or simply as a ?visitation?.

There are many formal rights Muslim pilgrims must take on. Firstly, before passing boundary stones that mark the edge of holy territory, they prepare by vowing to abstain from worldly actions during the pilgrimage. Men wear robes made of two white sheets, while women wear plain dresses. It is often believed that when the pilgrim presents himself at the last judgment day, they will be wearing the clothes they wore at Mecca. This further establishes the importance of the pilgrimage and the key to eternal life. All personal adornment or signs of wealth are forbidden at Mecca. There are also rites of purification which must be satisfied. The first of these is the ritual washing and cutting of hair and nails, which will only be repeated at the end of the pilgrimage. On arrival, pilgrims are given guides who ensure that the rituals are carried out properly (however, the ritual washing and cutting can be done before the plane ride in modern times). Rites are carried out around the central point of Mecca; Ka?ba (the house of Allah is too small for the rites to be carried out inside). Like the Christian pilgrimage, objects that touch zones of sacredness are given a sort of sacred power (clothes, rainwater, brooms). Embedded in one of the walls of Ka?ba there is a black stone (a meteorite), which is believed to have been a betyl- a sacred rock embodying the deity. It is a symbol of ?sedentising? the faith, it is a close and permanent association between Islam and Mecca. It is said that the rock was kissed by the prophet, and was sent by an angel of Allah to record all the deeds to be examined at judgment day. It is also said that the rock was originally white but has been darkened by the sins of humanity. As a strong symbol, the pilgrims kiss (or salute if it is out of reach) the stone upon arrival in the courtyard (like the feet of Jesus on a crucifix or kneeling in front of the tabernacle). Pilgrims also swirl in a continuous moving circle around the ka?ba. The ritual of walking around the ka?ba seven times is said to be imitating the angels who circle the throne of Allah. Following this, the pilgrims must run between two hillocks, in commemoration of the actions of Hagar (the wife of Abraham) searching for water for her son, Ishmael (very similar to repeating the Stations of the Cross). There is water present in the courtyard in the Well of Zam Zam, which is believed to have been created miraculously. After the completion of their rites, pilgrims try to drink the Well?s bitter water, while a sprinkle of it is believed to make the sins of the pilgrims? fall away (like the Christians? holy water). One of the most important parts of the hajj takes place at the Mount of Mercy in Arafat. It was here where Muhammad is said to have addressed his followers for the last time (mirroring the last supper, or sermon on the mount). An entire day of sermons and prayers are directed to this site, called ?the day of standing?. Following these ceremonies, the pilgrims begin gathering materials for the stoning of the pillars at Mina. This ceremony is derived from the traditional belief that Abraham hurled stoned at the devil when tempted to disobey God?s commands. Each pilgrim throws forty-one stones over a period of three days and three pillars, which are symbolic of the devil. The final part of the pilgrimage symbolizes self-denial and invokes Abraham?s willingness to sacrifice his son on God?s command. A sheep or other animal is ritually slaughtered, expressing the believer?s righteousness, in hopes that it will reach Allah.

Before moving on to the next section of this dissertation dealing with slightly negative views of pilgrimage, it is important to note the significance of the return of the pilgrim in Muslim religion. On their return, pilgrims act as channels for the blessings of Mecca and are therefore treated somewhat differently. Men usually enter a new stage of life upon return from a pilgrimage and they grow a beard (meaning that they did not repeat the cleansing ritual of cutting upon return). The beard is used as a symbol for age, wisdom and devotion to Mecca, as they remain in the unshaven state required in Mecca.

Pilgrimage and the Economy: Status and Tourism

Throughout history there have been many attacks against the pilgrim. While many of the negative views of pilgrimage were derived from the tourism, material aspect of the pilgrimage. However, in the Catholic Church, pilgrimage was attacked for other reasons, arguing that a Christian?s status does not depend on the partaking of the pilgrimage. Gregory of Nyssa (the brother of St.Basil) points out that ?When the Lord invites the blest to their inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven, He does not include a pilgrimage to Jerusalem amongst their good deeds?. Moreover, St. Augustine states that ?God is everywhere, it is true, and that He made all things is not contained or confined to dwell in any place?. Their cases, theologically were that what mattered in spiritual terms was in the individual?s heart, not the places he or she has visited. None the less, pilgrimages have proved to serve many purposes in respect to one?s faith.

The real problem arises when pilgrimage is paradoxically related to the structure, humanly, material world in which the pilgrims are trying to escape. Christians spend large sums of money on holy water, images of the Madonna and Jesus, crucifixes and candles, while tours are offered in the Holy Land for tourists. With the multiplication of shrines in Europe, in time, they became subject to abuse, namely with the competition among shrines for pilgrims and relics, and the multiplication of relics to the point of absurdity, are the objects of the growth of an indifferent attitude toward holy doctrines. Jan Hus is also remembered for his attacks against the church. He held that church officials ought to abstain from being earthly governors and that the church should not be linked the material profit as he would also denounce the use religious souvenirs and the like . Comparable to the Muslims, Christian authorities also fear that through travel, people will be subjected to temptation. The Doctrines of the Wahhabis have been compared with those of Calvinist puritanism in Christianity because of their ascetism and suspicion of all forms of idolatry. Throughout history there have been attempts to restore the piety of pilgrimage by banning musicians and prostitutes from caravans. From the earliest days of Islam, local political leaders were eager to exploit the profitable pilgrim trade and claim descent from the prophet to encourage their authority. There is a Meccan saying which demonstrates the wealth and materialism associated with pilgrimage: ?We do not need agriculture ? God has given us the pilgrims as our annual crop?.


After this rather brief dissertation highlighting the journey, rituals and material aspects of the pilgrimage one can conclude that the solidarity felt by pilgrims throughout the journey is a result of shared interests, feelings, actions and sympathies. They all share a common purpose and goal. The pilgrimage does indeed serve as a function, it forms a community, a collective consciousness and a foundation for morality and belief. Both pilgrimages provide a strong sense of solidarity for their people. Pilgrimage also seems to be strangely intertwined with the economy and material growth. However, because people do indeed demand for such items at the pilgrimage, symbols to take home and sacred pieces for friends and family who could not make the pilgrimage, the ?market? of pilgrimage can be justified. Because we are growing to become a much more secular world, pilgrimage and religion are not so easily abused by attempts to gain social or political status. The main conclusion to be derived from the foregoing pages is that the pilgrimage, whether Christian or Muslim offers as an incredible source for a feeling of unity and solidarity. It forms ?communitas?, a collective consciousness and a foundation for morality and belief. Both pilgrims? experience rites of passage, in that they are in a process of transition. Furthermore, liminality is proven through the initial separation form their homelands, then the transition and finally aggregation. It can be hypothesized from the above-mentioned quotes from pilgrims, that the journey they undertake is one, which is of utmost significant importance in their lives. In fact it is that journey which should indeed represent their life. As far as the importance of pilgrimage in being granted access to the after-life I have not made any firm conclusions or theological debates. Belief in the after life is something I shall leave to the reader. However, even if a pilgrimage to Mecca or the Holy Land does not ensure admittance to ?heaven? through the pilgrimage it is still essential for the spiritual life of a person who immerses himself in a religion. The most striking characteristics of the two pilgrimages, and admittedly, what I hoped to find, was that despite the fact that they are different religions, blooming from different regions of the world, despite the fact that conflict may even arise between Muslims and Christians (strictly because of their differences in beliefs), this essay has proven that they are incredibly similar. The Christian and the Muslim pilgrim are searching for the same thing, they go through similar processes, transitions and rites all to attain an incredible sense of solidarity and a feeling of euphoria, which is believed to have brought them closer to God.


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