A Season in Mecca

A Season in Mecca
by Abdellah Hammoudi

Typically, the study of religion and of religious experience itself are two separate phenomena. The encounter with the sacred touches a person’s core being, while its assessment in secular terms seeks to define it without commitment. What happens, then, when a Princeton anthropologist undertakes one of the fundamental duties of Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca? In this account of his own hajj, Abdellah Hammoudi breaks down the boundaries between a scholar and his subject. His A Season in Mecca is one of trial: overcoming bureaucratic hurdles; dealing with discomforting disagreements with fellow pilgrims; and yearning for a lost Islam now transformed into a brutish force-“devoid of compassion and merciless to God’s creatures”-by modern states eager to assume its authority for political purposes. It is a story of the hajj in its traditional understanding, but also the author’s personal account of what happened to him when he sought to reclaim his own tradition and rediscover “the tranquillity of belonging.”

A Season in Mecca records the hajj of a particularly erudite person, even as it offers an inquiry into the nature of religion in an age of political and intellectual conformism. Abjuring neutral scholarship, Hammoudi makes his experience the object of his study, charting a horizon that moves him profoundly and yet still discloses knowledge for scholarly consumption. Does academic activity, rightly pursued, affect...

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About the Author

Paul Heck