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07 November 2011

A Christian's Longing for Hajj

It is the season of Hajj. It is the solemn responsibility of every Muslim to go on Hajj if they are able ~ but without accruing debt to do so. I have always been envious of the Hajj. Islam is not unique in maintaining a pilgrim tradition, but its pilgrimage is unique.
There are many shrines in Islam, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Rumi's Tomb in Turkey and myriad local sites in countries all over the world, unknown by far-flung Muslims. There are two holy cities in Saudi Arabia, Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, but only one Hajj.
There is no singular call or requirement for pilgrimage in Christianity or Judaism. The Kotel (Western Wall), remaining from Herod's expansion of Solomon's temple is arguably the holiest site in Judaism. But there is no requirement to journey there. Many Christians want to see where Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead, walk where he walked and where he taught. There are so many Christian holy sites: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem. So many sites with questionable historicity ~ there are at least two options for the site of Jesus' resurrection. Even dispensing with the one disdained by scholars and locals, there is no single site in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for veneration. There are many shrines and altars, and I have my favorite.
I would almost prefer it if the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were veiled  and visited as a whole like the Kaaba. (Although I would still want to enter, unlike most pilgrims who are barred from the Kaaba.)
I love the unity that Hajj evokes. There is great diversity in Islam, but Hajj and the other pillars seem to be uniformly embraced without the doctrinal divisions evident in Christianity. There are certainly differences in practice and level (fervor?) of practice in all religions.
I appreciate and respect that part of the sanctity of Hajj is its restriction to Muslims. (In order get a visa one must prove one's Muslim identity, which can be challenging for people who were not born in Muslim countries.) But I would like to experience Hajj, as a Christian.
I have had the privilege of being welcomed into sacred spaces which were not my own in which I was able to experience the richness of another tradition and sometimes find a space where my tradition unexpectedly intersected another. But Hajj is closed to me.
I know that there are many thoughtful critiques of the culture and particularly the economy of Hajj, including gender and other issues. And even if I am romanticizing Hajj, it is a compelling practice, inviting me to think back on my own tradition.
Walking the Way of Suffering, the Via Delorosa in Jerusalem is perhaps the closest I have or will ever come to Hajj in my own faith. Yet the differences are stark: There are not nearly so many pilgrims gathered at one time, even on Good Friday. Pilgrims can come any day in any month. There are no pilgrim clothes. And all around us, life in the shops, restaurants and hostels of the Old City went on. (Which I also appreciate, because I could see Jesus being paraded through the market, full of people.)
I am grateful to sister, scholar and imam Amina Wadud for opening up her Hajj journey in a series of blogs. They have been grouped together here. (At the bottom of the page on that site there are links for the rest.)


  1. Subhanallah ... I hope that one day your prayer to experience the hajj will be answered.


  2. Thank you Snuze, that is very sweet!

  3. May Allah facilitate it for you . . . aameen.