The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places
by F. E. Peters
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. 399 pp. $29.5.
The Hadj: An American's Pilgrimage to Mecca
by Michael Wolfe
New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1993. 331 pp. $22.0.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Almost the same title, but they have very different subtitles and are very different books. Peters, a professor at New York University, has not gone near the Ka`ba himself, but has read nearly everything of importance ever published on the Muslim pilgrimage up to the year 1925. He quotes from these sources at length, with his own erudite comments interspersed, to produce a beautiful, lively account of this extraordinary ceremony. He explains the pagan and Islamic origins of the ritual, how it was in medieval times to travel to Mecca, how the hajj was celebrated in its classic form, and how it changed in the course of the last two centuries. By bringing together the best descriptions and personal accounts, Peters paints a more vivid and informative picture than probably any single individual could do.
Certainly more so than Wolfe has done. This American free-lancer not only writes a breezy prose which betrays his less-than-thorough preparation for the pilgrimage, but the account doesn't even land him in Saudi Arabia until the book is half-done (the first hundred-fifty pages take place in Morocco, where he just happened to go first). While ostensibly a convert, the author wears his Islam lightly. In the shadow of the many learned and eloquent writers in Peters' book, Wolfe's account will strike the reader as vapid, self-indulgent, ignorant, and dull--an account ultimately more revealing of the author's mind than of the hajj ceremony.
The contrast between these similarly-titled books raises two thoughts: First, just as tourism has mostly replaced travel, so tourism books have replaced travel books. Second, if you really want to understand a place or an activity, don't go there, go to your nearby library.
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes | September 1994 MEQ
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