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Haj in the context of middle eastern worldviews

Encyclopaedia of religion and Ethics HAJJ. Unique among the world's great pilgrimages, the hajj is in many ways also the most important. Even compared to the ancient and highly developed international pilgrimage systems of Christianity and Hinduism, the hajj is remarkable in its doctrinal centrality, its geographic focus, and its historical continuity. The size and global coverage of the hajj are
unparalleled. It regularly attracts one million overseas pilgrims from virtually every nation-about 50 percent of them from the Arab world, 35 percent from Asia, Io percent from sub-Saharan Africa, and 5 percent from Europe and the Western Hemisphere. These are joined in Mecca by another one million local pilgrims, mostly foreigners working in Saudi Arabia. The combined contingents form the largest and most
culturally diverse assembly of humanity to gather in one place at one time. The hajj is unique in its symbolic richness as well as its far-reaching political ramifications. The extraordinary interplay
of symbolism, ritual, and power links pilgrims with one another and with Muslims around the world in a feeling of common destiny extending from the time of creation until Judgment Day. The symbolic structure of the hajj contains numerous layers open to alternative interpretations. At each phase of the rites the pilgrim reenacts dramatic events associated with multiple, often overlapping characters. Any analysis of this symbolism soon becomes an investigation of archetypes derived not only from the Qur'an and
sunnah but also from local legend and oral tradition. In many accounts Muhammad's association with shrines and sites is preceded
not only by Abraham and his family (a pre-Islamic layer) , but also by Noah and Adam (a prehistoric layer) and by Gabriel and other angels (a preterrestrial layer) . Interpretation of this sacred symbolism has always been pluralistic and controversial. Orientalists such as von
Grunebaum have claimed that the rites have no meaning and that pilgrims perform the hajj with no comprehension of their actions beyond blind obedience. In contrast, some esoteric writers see
every place and persona as a profusion of signs pointing toward a unique truth for each pilgrim and each pilgrimage. Many pilgrims, literate or not, carry government-approved guide books that reveal the "secrets" or hidden meanings of the hajj as though there were a single, standard message that could be decoded once and for all.
Muslim commentators generally acknowledge that the hajj contains many mysteries that no human intellect grasps fully. However, they then proceed to interpret these latent themes in ways that reflect conventional differences among ulama', Sufis, Ships, modernists, and
fundamentalists. For many of these writers, the symbolism of the hajj serves as a metalanguage inviting critical and creative thought, open to periodic reinterpretation and congenial to wide variations in culture, nationality, and politics. Even the government of Saudi Arabia, which tries to set the limits of respectable discourse and conduct during the hajj, recognizes that such disagreements are inevitable and perhaps
desirable. The ritual functions of the pilgrimage are just as diverse as its symbolic structure. Anthropologists who specialize in the study of
ritual commonly distinguish between rites of passage, rites of renewal, rites of reversal, and rites of affliction. Although these concepts generally describe discrete phenomena, each is Appropriate in highlighting a different facet of the hajj.

 

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