Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century By C. Snouck Hurgronje (Leiden: Brill, 2007. 326 pages.)

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Isa Blumi

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Abstract

The annual spectacle of millions of pilgrims flooding Makkah has captured
the imagination of generations of readers. This interest in the hajj, however,
has not necessarily produced quality scholarship. From crude ethnographic
summaries to careful narratives of spiritual attainment, the literature has been
inconsistent at best. Brill’s republishing of Dutch scholar Christiaan Snouck
Hurgronje’s (1857-1936) forgotten work offers the modern reader not only an
invaluable window into the hajj as practiced before the age of mass communication,
but provides a hitherto neglected discussion on the social, cultural,
political, and economic impact that the experience had upon Muslims.
Often lost in the generalizations one finds in descriptions of the annual
pilgrimage, the world in which the reader is thrust while reading this book
offers a Makkah that is far more culturally dynamic than expected. Hurgronje’s
world is one filled with cultural and doctrinal variances that aremanifested
in the different ways in which Muslims worshiped, clothed themselves,
and ultimately socialized while in Makkah. In this sense, his careful
study of life over the months leading to the hajj exposes the reader to a fluid
cultural and economic process that constantly transforms, leaving the reader
with the impression that life was not, as the clichés so often try to instill,
“timeless.” Hurgronje, to his credit, is not interested in retelling the
Orientalist trope; rather, he strives to provide a serious ethnographic and historical
study.
As Hurgronje himself writes, this is a study to help non-Muslims, especially
fellow Dutchmen, understand their Muslim subjects living in the Far
East. For this reason, the book’s final part focuses exclusively on the Makkan
experience of Dutch subjects. In this regard, it is a careful analysis of how
Muslims from Java, Borneo, and Sumatra interacted with fellow Muslims;
socialized in this cosmopolitan milieu; and adopted numerous personal and
collective activities during their stay. That being said, it is especially impressive
that this study is not meant to be only a tool for colonial governance ...

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