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Pilgrimage /Christian, Muslim Essay

4248 words - 17 pages

Pilgrimage /Christian, Muslim

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; communitas; ordeal and reflection on religious and cultural values. Because pilgrimage is not necessarily mandatory (can be argued for Muslims), it is best described as quasi-liminal, rather than liminal in Van Gennep’s full sense. The pilgrimage is indeed an amazing phenomenon, which brings people together at a common goal, which is believed to be the essence or starting point of life and the ‘door’ to the afterlife. As we will discover, pilgrimages require great sacrifice, both financially and physically. Pilgrimages may give the impression of an act that is traditional and not ‘fit’ for our modern...

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