Author: Michael Wolfe
The hadj, or sacred journey, is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are enjoined to make once in their lifetimes. Its purpose is to detach human beings from their homelands and, by bringing them to Mecca, temporarily reinstate the equality of all people before God. One of the world’s longest-lived religious rites, the hadj has continued without break for fourteen hundred year. It is, like most things Islamic, shrouded in mystery for Westerners. In his new book, Michael Wolfe, an American-born writer and recent Muslim convert, recounts his experiences on this journey, and in the process brings readers closer to the meaning of Islam.
Wolfe’s book bridges the high points of the Muslim calendar, beginning in April with the annual month-long fast of Ramadan. In Morocco, he settles into daily life with a merchant family in the ancient quarter of Marrakesh. During his three-month stay, he explores the intricate traditional life of Muslim Morocco. His accounts of this time deepen our feeling for Islam, a faith that claims one-sixth of the world’s population. As summer approaches, he travels north to Tangier, where he visits Western writers and Moroccan mystics. In June, he arrives in Mecca, a city closed to all but Muslims.
The protean experience of the hadj, and the real Mecca, that most religious and mysterious of cities, are captured in the last half of the book. Inevitably, the buildup to the Gulf War hovers in the background—the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is just weeks away. Yet it is the author’s participation in the age-old rites of the hadj that most preoccupies his thoughts, strengthening his bond to the faith he has embraced as an outsider, developing and transforming it, making it personal and alive.
Not since Sir Richard Burton’s account of the pilgrimage to Mecca over a century ago has a Western writer described the hadj in such stunning and intimate detail. At a time when the eyes of the world are on Islam, The Hadj offers a perceptive and much-needed look at its human face.
“Wolfe lifts the veil on this ancient and sacred duty, simultaneously presenting a lively and sympathetic picture of Muslims.” —Publishers Weekly
“The most engaging of travel books . . . his pilgrimage will move people of all faiths—and of none at all, because it describes a universal journey for meaning, transcendence and peace.”—The Literary Review
“Wolfe has perhaps provided the clearest statement of an American Muslim since Malcolm X.”—Journal of Near Eastern Studies
“It requires a special sensitivity to write well about the Hadj. . . . Michael Wolfe’s tone is exactly right.”—The Times Literary Supplement
“Michael Wolfe’s straightforward, clear-sighted account takes us where only a convert could go deeply: into that vast Muslim world—‘Dar al-Islam’—which it is imperative that we come to know better. Wolfe never lectures, and certainly he does not proselytize; what we learn of faith or history or custom transpires from a beautifully plain pilgrim’s narrative full of mood, detail, color, savor, and the human encounters of every day. This is an engaging book, and I am grateful for it.”—Richard Wilbur
“Michael Wolfe is a writer-adventurer in the French Romantic tradition, an ingenuous, intrepid traveler on the order of Loti and Soulie de Morant. The Hadj is a remarkable, intimate record of a unique exploit: a genuine modern odyssey to an ultimate destination. Encounter here a great quest rendered nobly and most respectfully by an outstanding storyteller.”—Barry Gifford