Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land
by F. E. Peters
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. 473 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Mecca is a companion volume to Peters' earlier 1994 study, The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places (reviewed in MEQ, September 1994). That book focuses on the experience of the pilgrimage, in Mecca and outside it; this one focuses on the geography and history of what Peters calls "the Muslim Holy Land," by which he means "Mecca and Medina and their spiritual environs." "Literary history" points to the fact that there is little or no material evidence for Islam's holy cities before 1925, this book's cut-off date, compelling the researcher to rely almost exlusively on written sources.
As in the earlier volume, Peters mixes his own scholarly findings here with long excerpts from primary sources, both Muslim and Western. Rather than impose his own schema on the materials at hand, he follows their vagaries, jumping from the early centuries of Islam to the Age of Discovery with only a few pages on the intervening centuries. The result is an unusual but highly successful mix of literary collage with academic inquiry. Subjects especially worth noting include the account of the Qarmatian conquest of Mecca in 930 and their stealing of the Black Stone; the story of Thomas Keith, a Scotsman taken prisoner by the Ottoman forces who converted to Islam and eventually became governor of Medina in 1815; and late nineteenth-century British musings about the recruitment of spies to keep an eye on possible seditious activity during the pilgrimage activities in Mecca.
Related Topics: History, Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia | Daniel Pipes | March 1995 MEQ
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