In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pilgrimage and Religious Travel

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Works
  • Visual Resources
  • Comparative Studies
  • Legal Studies
  • Management of Hajj and Public Health
  • Politics
  • Shiʿi Pilgrims and Pilgrimage
  • Sufi Pilgrims and Pilgrimage

Islamic Studies Pilgrimage and Religious Travel
Yousef Meri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0061


Pilgrimage and travel in Islam are distinct yet interrelated phenomena, which anthropologists and scholars of religion often classify as “religious travel.” (For the purposes of this overview, at least, this latter term does not include what has come to be known as “religious tourism.”) For the premodern context, travel accounts (Arab. rihla; Pers. Safarnama) routinely include the hajj, ʿumrah, and ziyara (the visitation of holy places) as part of the itinerary. Travel or journeying in the pursuit of knowledge (rihla fi talab al-ʿilm) is a central commandment in Islam, as in the hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: “Seek knowledge even in China.” Travel took on different forms, from travel in the pursuit of knowledge to performing the pilgrimage to Mecca and visiting holy sites. The hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is the fifth pillar of Islam and occurs annually from the 8th to the 12th of the twelfth Islamic month of Dhuʾl-Hijja. It is incumbent upon all able-bodied Muslims possessing the financial means to undertake the hajj once in their lifetimes. This pilgrimage has been well-documented in Islamic and Western sources from the time of the Muhammad in the 7th century. In both premodern and modern times, students have often remained in Mecca after the hajj in order to obtain knowledge from the leading religious scholars of the time. The hajj rituals include entering into a state of ritual consecration (ihram), staying (wuquf; literally “standing”) at ʿArafa, making seven circuits around the Kaʿba (tawaf), running seven times (saʿy) between al-Safa and al-Marwa, and shaving of the head or cutting locks of hair. The ʿumrah, or “lesser pilgrimage,” which is commendable though not obligatory, may be performed at any time throughout the year with the exception of the 8th–10th of Dhuʾl-Hijja, as well as in conjunction with the hajj. The ʿumrah consists of entering into a state of ritual consecration (ihram), making seven circuits around the Kaʿba, and shaving the head or cutting locks of hair.

General Overviews

Sources listed here include general overviews of the hajj and ʿumrah for nonspecialists (Bianchi 2009, Yusuf 2009) and from a religious studies perspective (Martin 1987). Hawting 2004 provides a more detailed historical treatment of the hajj. Online sources for the hajj, while useful in providing general information, are highly variable in quality. Thus, few Internet sites have been listed here.

  • Bianchi, Robert R. “Hajj.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Comprehensive overview of the hajj, with explanations of rituals, symbolism, and political history. Available online.

  • Hawting, Gerald. “Pilgrimage.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, Vol. 4. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 91–100. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2004.

    Detailed historical overview of the hajj and its rituals.

  • Martin, Richard E. “Pilgrimage: Muslim Pilgrimage.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Edited by M. Eliade, 7154–7161. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

    Excellent overview of the hajj and ʿumrah accessible to undergraduates.

  • Paret, R. and E. Chaumont. “ʿUmra.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 10. 2d ed. Edited by P. J. Bearman, et al., 864–866. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

    Brief overview of the ʿumrah in classical Islamic sources.

  • Esposito, John L.“Pilgrimage.” In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Authoritative article on the hajj providing a brief yet useful overview of the hajj rituals.

  • Pickens, Claude L. “The Mecca Pilgrimage.” The Muslim World 24, no. 3 (1934): 229–235.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-1913.1934.tb00300.x

    American Protestant missionary provides a brief overview of hajj statistics and useful comparisons for the years 1928 and 1933 followed by observations of the hajj traditions of Chinese Muslims.

  • Princeton University Humanities Computing Research Support. Stages of the Hajj.

    Useful diagram of the stages of the hajj.

  • Wensinck, Arent Jan, et al. “Ḥadjdj.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 3. 2d ed. Edited by B. Lewis, et al., 735–736. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1986.

    Brief overview of the hajj.

  • Yusuf, Imtiyaz. “ʿUmrah.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Brief entry on the ʿUmra. Available online.

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