Hajj: The Pilgrimage

“Hajj: The Pilgrimage”

by Hussein Rashid

Chapter Summary

This chapter takes us on a journey to Mecca, site of the hajj, or annual pilgrimage. Hussein Rashid depicts this often once-in-a-lifetime experience for several Muslim Americans who represent a wide variety of ethnic, racial, and sectarian backgrounds. We learn about the pilgrimages of Khizer, a health care professional from Washington, D.C.; Zahra, an attorney from California; Debra, a college professor from Wisconsin; Suehaila, a professional recruiter from Dearborn, Michigan; and other Muslim Americans. They walk counter-clockwise around the Ka‘ba; pray outside Mecca at Mina and Mt. Arafat; reenact Hagar’s desperate search for water; and symbolically stone the devil, among other rites. In addition to giving essential background on each of these practices, Rashid asks these pilgrims what all these rituals mean to them and what they hope to gain by coming on hajj. As a result, we come to know not only about the logistical problems and gripes of pilgrims, but also about the failed relationships that led a couple of the pilgrims to seek solace or healing in Mecca in the first place.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the major elements of the hajj? Identify and briefly explain each of them.
  • Discuss the differing reactions of Muslim Americans to the journey, their reasons for going, and how they interpret the experience.
  • Compare and contrast this pilgrimage to religious journeys in other traditions. What similarities do you find? What differences?

Group Exercises

  • Watch the video, “Mecca,” by Canadian Hip Hop group Deen Squad above. Identify the elements of hajj featured in the video and analyze Deen Squad’s interpretations of hajj in light of the chapter.
  • Compare the idealized version of the hajj presented in the song, “Mecca,” to Suroosh Alvi’s exposé for Vice, noting the differences and similarities that characterize these two narratives about Hajj:
Hussein Rashid (Ph.D., Harvard) is an adjunct faculty member at Barnard College as well as a blogger, writer, and consultant. An advocate of religious literacy, he publishes in both specialized journals and general audience forums on Islam and Muslims in the United States.