‘The Muslim Pilgrimage’
Fri, January 31, 2014 • 2:45 PM - 4:30 PM • Tom Lea Rooms, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center 3.206
Benjamin Brower (Cornell)
Of the five pillars of Islam, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) most directly involved the political field, whether in British, French or other colonial regimes. For purposes of comparison, this talk will examine the Hajj during Algeria’s colonial era (1830-1962). France tried to assert authority over territory and people by controlling the pilgrimages. The political dividends of piety came with risks, however, and this talk also addresses how the Hajj served Algerians to attack European rule.
The Hajj has a comparative dimension to it that perhaps can serve as the basis for general discussion after the talk. To cite a famous example from Conrad’s Lord Jim:
Eight hundred men and women with faith and hopes, with affections and memories, they had collected there [on the Patna], coming from north and south and from the outskirts of the East, after treading the jungle paths, descending the rivers, coasting in praus [Malaysian sailboats] along the shallows, crossing in small canoes from island to island, passing through suffering, meeting strange sights, beset by strange fears, upheld by one desire…the call of an idea.
In an American context, Malcolm X once said of the Hajj: ‘America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.’
Ben Brower received his Ph.D. from Cornell University and teaches in the History Department at UT. His first book, A Desert Named Peace: French Empire and Violence in the Algerian Sahara, 1840-1900, received the Pinkney Prize for the best book in French history, and the Hourani Award for the best book in Middle East studies. His current research examines colonial violence and the Muslim pilgrimage under colonial rule.