An Opin­ion on The Hajj

C. Snouck Hur­gron­je (18571936) was a famous Dutch ori­en­tal­ist as well as the main archi­tect of the Dutch colo­nial pol­i­cy towards Islam in Indone­sia, which, under his direc­tions, was much more inter­fer­ing in the inter­nal affairs of the Mus­lims than the British pol­i­cy in the Indi­an sub-continent.

In those days when colo­nial­ism and slav­ery used to be jus­ti­fied by Chris­tian­i­ty, the gen­er­al atti­tude of Euro­peans, and espe­cial­ly the Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies, was pre­dom­i­nant­ly con­temp­tu­ous in regard to the affairs of their colo­nial sub­jects, their reli­gion and civilization.

In that age of empire and mis­sion, Hur­gron­je’s writ­ings on Islam show a rare spec­i­men of (com­par­a­tive) objec­tiv­i­ty and hon­esty. He is at some pains to defend the gen­uine­ly praise­wor­thy ele­ments of Islam from the unjus­ti­fied crit­i­cism of the Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies, as well as from the dis­tor­tions of some of the Mus­lim schol­ars alike.

His writ­ings, how­ev­er, were a prod­uct of his age and need to be stud­ied today while keep­ing in mind his posi­tion as the high­est advi­sor to the colo­nial Dutch gov­ern­ment, and that his fore­most objec­tive was the safe­guard­ing the inter­ests of the Dutch in her Mus­lim colonies. This con­sid­er­a­tion has obvi­ous effects on his objectivity.

The fol­low­ing extract of his1 is con­cern­ing the Hajj, pre­sent­ed here for the infor­ma­tion of the readers :

    In Mec­ca year­ly two or three hun­dred thou­sand Moslims from all parts of the world come togeth­er to cel­e­brate the hajj, that curi­ous set of cer­e­monies of pagan Ara­bi­an ori­gin which Mohammed has incor­po­rat­ed into his reli­gion, a durable sur­vival that in Islam makes an impres­sion as sin­gu­lar as that of jump­ing pro­ces­sions in Christianity.

    Mohammed nev­er could have fore­seen that the con­se­quence of his con­ces­sion to deeply root­ed Ara­bic cus­tom would be that in future cen­turies Chi­nese, Malays, Indi­ans, Tatars, Turks, Egyp­tians, Berbers, and negroes would meet on this bar­ren desert soil and car­ry home pro­found impres­sions of the inter­na­tion­al sig­nif­i­cance of Islam.

    Still more impor­tant is the fact that from all those coun­tries young peo­ple set­tle here for years to devote them­selves to the study of the sacred sci­ence. From the sec­ond to the tenth month of the Mohammedan lunar year, the Haram, i.e., the mosque, which is an open place with the Ka’bah in its midst and sur­round­ed by large roofed gal­leries, has free room enough between the hours of pub­lic ser­vice to allow of a dozen or more cir­cles of stu­dents sit­ting down around their pro­fes­sors to lis­ten to as many lec­tures on dif­fer­ent sub­jects, gen­er­al­ly deliv­ered in a very loud voice.

    Ara­bic gram­mar and style, prosody, log­ic, and oth­er prepara­to­ry branch­es, the sacred triv­i­um ; canon­ic law, dog­mat­ics, and mys­ti­cism, and, for the more advanced, exe­ge­sis of Qoran and Tra­di­tion and some oth­er branch­es of supereroga­tion, are taught here in the medi­ae­val way from medi­ae­val text-books or from more mod­ern com­pi­la­tions repro­duc­ing their con­tents and com­plet­ing them more or less by treat­ing mod­ern ques­tions accord­ing to the same methods.

    It is now almost thir­ty years since I lived the life of a Mec­can stu­dent dur­ing one uni­ver­si­ty year, after hav­ing become famil­iar with the mat­ter taught by the pro­fes­sors of the tem­ple of Mec­ca, the Haram, by pri­vate­ly study­ing it, so that I could freely use all my time in observ­ing the men­tal­i­ty of peo­ple learn­ing those things not for curios­i­ty, but in order to acquire the only true direc­tion for their life in this world and the sal­va­tion of their souls in the world to come.

    For a mod­ern man there could hard­ly be a bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ty imag­ined for get­ting a true vision of the Mid­dle Ages than is offered to the Ori­en­tal­ist by a few months’ stay in the Holy City of Islam. In coun­tries like Chi­na, Tibet, or India there are spheres of spir­i­tu­al life which present to us still more inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al for com­par­a­tive study of reli­gions than that of Mec­ca, because they are so much more dis­tant from our own ; but, just on that account, the West­ern stu­dent would not be able to adapt his mind to their men­tal atmos­pheres as he may do in Mec­ca. No one would think for one moment of con­sid­er­ing Con­fu­cian­ism, Hin­duism, or Bud­dhism as spe­cial­ly akin to Chris­tian­i­ty, where­as Islam has been treat­ed by some his­to­ri­ans of the Chris­t­ian Church as belong­ing to the hereti­cal off­spring of the Chris­t­ian reli­gion. In fact, if we are able to abstract our­selves for a moment from all dog­mat­ic prej­u­dice and to become a Mec­can with the Mec­ca­ns, one of the neigh­bours of Allah,” as they call them­selves, we feel in their tem­ple, the Haram, as if we were con­vers­ing with our ances­tors of five or six cen­turies ago. Here scholas­ti­cism with a rab­bini­cal tint forms the great attrac­tion to the minds of thou­sands of intel­lec­tu­al­ly high­ly gift­ed men of all ages.

    The most impor­tant lec­tures are deliv­ered dur­ing the forenoon and in the evening. A walk, at one of those hours, through the square and under the colon­nades of the mosque, with ears opened to all sides, will enable you to get a gen­er­al idea of the objects of men­tal exer­cise of this inter­na­tion­al assembly.

    Here you may find a sheikh of pure Arab descent explain­ing to his audi­ence, com­posed of white Syr­i­ans or Cir­cas­sians, of brown and yel­low Abyssini­ans and Egyp­tians, of negroes, Chi­nese, and Malays, the prob­a­ble and improb­a­ble legal con­se­quences of mar­riage con­tracts, not except­ing those between men and genii ; there a negro schol­ar is explain­ing the onto­log­i­cal evi­dence of the exis­tence of a Cre­ator and the log­i­cal neces­si­ty of His hav­ing twen­ty qual­i­ties, insep­a­ra­ble from, but not iden­ti­cal with, His essence ; in the midst of anoth­er cir­cle a learned mufti of inde­ter­minably mixed extrac­tion demon­strates to his pupils from the stan­dard work of al-Ghaz­a­li the absolute van­i­ty of law and doc­trine to those whose hearts are not puri­fied from every attach­ment to the world.

    Most of the branch­es of Mohammedan learn­ing are rep­re­sent­ed with­in the walls of this tem­ple by more or less famous schol­ars ; and still there are a great num­ber of pri­vate lec­tures deliv­ered at home by pro­fes­sors who do not like to be dis­turbed by the unavoid­able noise in the mosque, which dur­ing the whole day serves as a meet­ing place for friends or busi­ness men, as an exer­cise hall for Qoran reciters, and even as a pas­sage for peo­ple going from one part of the town to the other.

    In order to com­plete your medi­ae­val dream with a scene from dai­ly life, you have only to leave the mosque by the Bab Derey­bah, one of its twen­ty-two gates, where you may see human mer­chan­dise exhib­it­ed for sale by the slave-bro­kers, and then to have a glance, out­side the wall, at a camel car­a­van, bring­ing fire­wood and veg­eta­bles into the town, led by Beduins whose out­ward appear­ance has as lit­tle changed as their minds since the day when Mohammed began here to preach the Word of Allah.

In con­clud­ing, Hur­gron­je’s detailed account of the Hajj, the para­mount pil­grim­age of Islam, imparts an in-depth under­stand­ing of the reli­gion’s pow­er­ful com­mu­nal spir­it, aca­d­e­m­ic vital­i­ty, and endur­ing tra­di­tions. His writ­ings act as a mir­ror, reflect­ing the rich tapes­try of Islam­ic cul­ture and val­ues, while remind­ing us of the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the pur­suit of knowl­edge and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. While acknowl­edg­ing the con­text of his era, Hur­gron­je’s nar­ra­tive pro­vides an enrich­ing explo­ration of the Hajj that res­onates beyond the con­fines of time and space. It invites us, as part of the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, to appre­ci­ate the depth and breadth of Islam­ic tra­di­tions and to con­tin­ue striv­ing for mutu­al under­stand­ing and respect.Endmark

  1. Extract tak­en from : Chap­ter iv : Islam and Mod­ern Thought”, Mohammedanism, New York : G. P. Put­nam’s Sons, 1937.[]

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