A pilgrimage is a long journey that has people searching for some type of moral or spiritual significance in their faith. In the religions of Judaism and Islam, these religions have a special place to go to find their threshold. Jewish people travel to Mt. Sinai where Moses received the 10 commandment by God. Muslim believers travel to Mecca which is the most holy city in Islam. According to Paul Elie, “A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the reports and goes in search of evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness. The pilgrim seeks not only to confirm the experience of others first had but to be changed by the experience”1 Every day people travel to these holy sites for important reasons. It is significant for religious people to achieve these holy orders of pilgrimage because it is essential for them to see for themselves what has happened in that holy site. Pilgrimages, however, are not a ritual, it is something that is voluntary. This paper will discuss why people travel to these holy sites, what they do when they are there, and how they return, and why it is not a ritual, dealing with the Jewish and Muslim religions.
A pilgrimage site means that a miracle has happened there, miracles are happening there, and miracles will happen there.2 It is a journey to a place believed to have strong religious significance. Miracles happen at these important sites to religions such as in Mecca for Muslims, or Mt. Sinai or Jerusalem for Jews, and people being able to change their life for the time being to achieve the gift of having that image of seeing where this miracle has happened, and the belief that a miracle will happen again.3 People choose to go on a journey to see their holy site of their respected religion.
A ritual is a set of actions that are performed by the religion that have no influence from technology, and goes by the traditions of the religion through the scriptures.4 A pilgrimage is not a ritual. Rituals are routines that are repeated in the religion, for example, Jews and Muslims praying and worshiping throughout the week is a ritual of attending a synagogue, or a mosque for the intent of praying to God. It is a set of steps or behaviors that are in order and are to be done a specific way. A ritual is something that brings dramatic unity to a person is his or her faith. Turner states, “The decision to go on a pilgrimage takes place within the individual but brings him into fellowship with like-minded souls, both on the way at the shrine.”5 Pilgrimages are a voluntary aspect to the religion and are done when someone wants to see the holiest site of their religion. Rituals are different in that they are a set of actions in the religion. There could be aspects such as gestures, words, and writings that are in the scriptures. Ritual actions are obligations to the faith that are done every day by people of the religion because it is mandatory, where as pilgrimages are only done maybe once in a life time because it is voluntary.6 It is however in the Muslim religion that you have to visit the holy site of Mecca once in your lifetime, but rituals are still done every day such as in prayer.
A pilgrimage is a rite of passage, meaning that if you have not had the experience of traveling to the holy site, then you simply cannot understand it. Turner states, “In the pilgrimages of the historical religions the moral unit is the individual, and his goal is salvation or release from the sins and evils of the structural world, in preparation for participation in an afterlife of pure bliss.The rite of passage in pilgrimage consists of three segment, separation, limen, and reaggregation. Separation means that a person is detached from there specific place in society. Limen is a transitional stage where the person sees something in a different light, and lastly, reaggregration places these people back into society as a changed person.9 Turner states, “It has become clear to us that liminality is not only transition but also potentiality, not going ‘going to be’ but also ‘what may be,’ a formulable domain in which all that is not manifest in the normal day-to-day operation of social structures. . .”10 This is something that marks a change in a person socially, mentally, and spiritually. An example of a rite of passage would be Marriage.11 Two people get engaged, a ceremony is going to take place, and then at the end of it all those two people are put back into society. When a person sets out for a pilgrimage, the person leaves society in transition to find the holy site, and once that person finds it he or she is changed spiritually, and then heads home to society.
The way that a person of religious faith attempts to go on his or her quest to see a holy site is also important. Pilgrimage is a voluntary journey for a person to see the holy site of the religion. They way someone travels to their destination is called elliptical, which is a geometric form of pilgrimage. The person may a long route to get to their destination and it might take that person a while to arrive at the holy site, but once they arrive at their holy site they see how spiritual the site is and they try and get home as fast as possible so they can tell everyone else what they have witnessed. An example of a geometric form of pilgrimage would be a family from the United States traveling from the city of Boston to see the historical sites of Washington DC. Along the way this family will run into many events and begins to sight see at all of the landmarks of the country. It takes this family a while arrive at Washington DC, but once they are there and see all of the history that is in this city, they begin there travels home. The way they go home is as fast as possible so that they can tell all of their friends about it. They do not stop and see any events or any landmarks, but just go right home. A pilgrimage works the same way.
There are many factors that make up a pilgrimage in the Jewish religion. In the year 70 CE the Roman army which was led under General Titus destroyed the second temple of the Jews. The second temple of the Jews was a pilgrimage spot for all Jews to go to. According to Wikipedia, “Following the destruction of the Second Temple and the onset of the diaspora , the centrality of pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Judaism was discontinued. In its place came prayers and rituals hoping for a return to Zion and the accompanying restoration of regular pilgrimages.”12 Prayers and rituals became a daily part of Jewish life from then on.
In the Islamic religion, the pilgrimage site is Mecca. A pilgrimage to Mecca is also known as one of the five pillars of Islam, which is one of the basics of Islam that were put down in respect of Allah13 According to John Corrigan, “Mecca and its companion sacred precinct Medina are forbidden to non-Muslims. Muslims may visit Mecca at any time of the year. If the visit includes observance of some of the pilgrimage rites at and near the Ka’aba, it is called umra, a ‘little pilgrimage’.”14. Mecca is so important because it is the birthplace of the Islamic religion. According to John Bowker, “To go on a pilgrimage to Mecca is an obligation to those who “can make their way” (3.97), that is, those whose health and circumstances allow it and who put their responsibilities to their family first”15 Islam is centered on a prophet named Muhammad. He was born in Mecca and centered the Islamic faith on Mecca. He conquered Mecca in the year 630 CE, and the Islamic religion propels into the Middle East. Mecca is now the city where the people of Islam pilgrimage too to achieve unity with Allah.
Devotion is one of the main principles on why people go on a pilgrimage in any religion. In the Islamic religion it is a true sign of devotion to their faith when they travel through hardships to get to their destination. According to Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri, The Pilgrimage is the most complex devotional, social, political, and cultural act in Islam. It contains many elements that occur in a difficult environment. . .”16
1 Paul Elie, The Life you Save May Be Your Own, An American Pilgrimage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), X.
2Victor Turner, Pilgrimage as a Liminoid Phenomenon, 6.
3 Turner, 6.
4 Corrigan, 210
5 Turner 31
6 Wikipedia, Ritual
7 Turner, 8.
8 Turner, 2.
9 Turner, 2.
10 Turner, 10.
12 Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia “Pilgrimage”
13 John Bowker, God, A brief History (London: DK Publishing Inc, 2002), 348.
14 John Corrigan. Jews, Christians, Muslims: A Comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (New Jersey: Prentice Hall-Inc, 1998), 263.
15 Bowker, 348.
16 Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri, “The Pilgrimage of Islam, Encompassing the Five Schools of Thought” http://www.nuradeen.com/reflections/PilgrimageOfIslam.htm (accessed November 12, 2006). Chapter 4.