Hammoudi describes not just the adventure, the human pressures, and the social tumult everything from the early preparations to the last climactic scenes in the holy shrines of Medina and Mecca but also the intricate politics and amazing complexity of the entire pilgrimage experience. He pays special heed to the effects of Saudi bureaucratic control over the hajj, to the ways that faith itself becomes a lucrative source of commerce for the Arabian kingdom, and to the Wahhabi inflections of the basic Muslim message.
Here, too, is a poignant discussion of the inner voyage that pilgrimage can mean to those who embark on it: the transformed sense of daily life, of worship, and of political engagement. Hammoudi acknowledges that he was spurred to reconsider his own ideas about faith, gesture, community, and nationality in unanticipated ways. This is a remarkable work of literature about both the outer forms and the inner meanings of Islam today.
New York Times
"It is as much a subtle, complex meditation as it is an example of the ′art of reportage′. It is a commentary on one Arab intellectual′s modern dilemmas as well as on the hajj as he experienced it ... this struggle gives the writing much of its deep interest."
London Review of Books
"A rare glimpse into what the hajj can mean to a pilgrim′s views about faith, community, nationalism, and his personal spiritual experience."
Middle East Journal
"This hajj seen from the inside is a jewel of wit and emotion, a reflection on Islam, and a mine of information."
Le Monde de Religions
"With a sharp observing eye for even the smallest details of daily life, and with a critical spirit that is always respectful but not without humour, Hammoudi leads the Western reader through the labyrinth of this unknown, intriguing world."
Le Monde des Livres
"This is a perceptive and richly–descriptive meditation on faith, kinship and nationality that gives a unique insight into an event of international significance. It is conveyed with rare personal candour, a wealth of historical and cultural detail and moments of unexpected humour."
"Hammoudi, a Paris–educated professor of anthropology at Princeton University, brings his worldly experiences to the most personal of journeys: the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (called the hajj in Arabic). Originally written in French, this English edition is being published to coincide with the 2006 hajj. Hammoudi is eager to explore the academic angles of the hajj, all the while doubting the strength of his own faith. He is constantly tested. First, he must bribe a mid–level government official in his native Morocco several times simply to be added to the country′s quota list of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Medina, the city of the Prophet Muhammad, Hammoudi is stunned by the omnipresent markets hawking everything from rugs to suitcases. Still struggling for a religious experience, Hammoudi is angered by the Wahhabi stewards of Mecca and Medina, who police Islam′s holiest sites with irrational Wahhabi zeal. Beset with the flu, Hammoudi still circumambulates the Kaaba in Mecca, appreciating the rare absence of gender segregation. Ghazaleh′s translation is reminiscent of both French eloquence and Moroccan storytelling a mystical, almost surreal, journey."