Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hajj and Cultural Exchange

I am continuing to read some of the articles in the academic conference volume associated with the British Museum's 2012 hajj exhibit.  In one of them Jonathan Bloom suggests that the hajj is a plausible explanation for why certain architectural features appeared at roughly the same time in widely separated areas of the Islamic world.  An example he uses is the mosque with nine bays, which appeared suddenly in the ninth century in both North Africa and Afghanistan.  Probably not coincidentally, it was also the form of multiple mosques at the stations along the Darb Zubaydah, the main pilgrimage road from Baghdad to Mecca which the developed by the Abbasids during the late 700's and early 800's.

This is an example of how the influence of the global Muslim pilgrimage depends not only on meetings in Mecca, but also on encounters pilgrims have along the way.  Another example of this is the trade done by individual pilgrims along their journey, which was in fact a necessity for many to afford provisions as they traveled.  To quote from Qasira Khan's article "Souvenirs and Gifts: Collecting Modern Hajj":
Before their Hajj, Dagestani Muslims arrive in Jordan with carpets and silver items in order to pay for their trip to Mecca.  The Russia Journal reporting in 2000 noted that roadside stalls covered with handwoven carpets, silverware, crystals and other valuables were being sold to finance the Hajj.  Amman was the final stop from Central Asia, a journey which took them through Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Syria.  The report marks that the Dagestanis' journeys is of very little comfort, their transport buses do not contain seats, making the journey particularly arduous.  The Jordanians purchase items from them, either seeking wares from distant places, or as an opportunity to help out a Muslim pilgrim.
Khan quotes other examples of such exchanges, as well as how the mementos acquired along the route and in Mecca itself can be displayed in local communities and start influencing local crafts.



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