A Study of the Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land And the Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca
SSC 231 Cultural Conflict and Human Solidarity University College Utrecht May 2001
A French folklorist and ethnographer, Arnold Van Gennep (1908-1960) gave us the first clues about how ancient and tribal societies conceptualized and symbolized the transitions men have to make between states a statuses . He demonstrated that all rites of passage are marked by three phases: separation, limen or margin, and aggregation. By identifying liminality Van Gennep discovered a major innovative, transformative dimension of the social. He is credited for paving the way for future studies of all processes of spatiotemporal social or individual change. Various researchers have studied the study focus of this paper, the pilgrimage, yet Van Gennep led us to recognizing the significance in such cultural, religious behavior. The two religious pilgrimages to be discussed in this paper are both the Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Although these religions differ, they are none the less the two largest religions in the world and both take part in pilgrimages which demonstrate how close the two religions may be in their general beliefs and actions. Moreover, the pilgrimage ultimately serves as a channel for ‘communitas’ and brings people to an end goal after a journey, which highly represents life. The end goal for both religions is salvation from their almighty God. Because Christianity is very familiar in the West, I will use it as a starting block for comparisons.
To begin with, we should grasp an underlying image and idea of the pilgrimage. Firstly, there is an undoubtedly initiatory quality in the pilgrimage. A pilgrim enters into a new, deeper level of existence than he has previously known. Furthermore, the pilgrims’ goal is salvation or release from the sins and evils of the structural world and he prepares himself for participation in afterlife bliss. Through the power of ritual, sacrifice and use of symbols in pilgrimages, a likeness and common intention is converted into commonness of feeling, into “communitas”. Therefore, the pilgrimage has attributes of liminality in passage rites: release from mundane structure; homogenization of status; simplicity of dress or behavior; communita...
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... is one, which is of utmost significant importance in their lives. In fact it is that journey which should indeed represent their life. As far as the importance of pilgrimage in being granted access to the after-life I have not made any firm conclusions or theological debates. Belief in the after life is something I shall leave to the reader. However, even if a pilgrimage to Mecca or the Holy Land does not ensure admittance to ‘heaven’ through the pilgrimage it is still essential for the spiritual life of a person who immerses himself in a religion. The most striking characteristics of the two pilgrimages, and admittedly, what I hoped to find, was that despite the fact that they are different religions, blooming from different regions of the world, despite the fact that conflict may even arise between Muslims and Christians (strictly because of their differences in beliefs), this essay has proven that they are incredibly similar. The Christian and the Muslim pilgrim are searching for the same thing, they go through similar processes, transitions and rites all to attain an incredible sense of solidarity and a feeling of euphoria, which is believed to have brought them closer to God.
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