zondag 13 november 2011

Pilgrimage and the political/economic aspects of religion

Snouck Hurgronje wrote in 1880 a dissertation on the Muslim pilgrimage of Mecca, the hajj. He constructed the theory that the hajj is one of the main four signs of the compromise between the Meccan Prophet and the Medina Politician. In Medina Muhammad could really see his community grow, but in order to win over the elite of Mecca 'the prophet had to make some compromises with the politician'. The major one for Snouck is the greater and modified role of Abraham as the first Muslim and the first Meccan prophet. Additional there was the change in direction of prayer (instead of the Jewish-Christian direction of Jerusalem), the qiblah, the move towards Ramadan as the month of fasting (instead of the Jewish 10th of Shura?) and finally the inclusion of the Meccan pilgrimage into the new religion of Islam. So, it were political reason, besides a reformed religious motivation, that put the hajj in Islam.
The hajj has been always of great political and economic importance in Islam. The Dutch Three Sisters (steamer companies) earned much money with this religious devotion. In 2006 Said Agil Munawar (minister of religion of Indonesia between 2001-4) was sent to jail because of embezzlement, among others with the money involved in the organization of the Meccan pilgrimage.
Recently also among Christians in Indonesia pilgrimage has become popular and important. It started with the Catholics and their tours to Europe: Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, besides Paris and Amsterdam are popular destinations. Protestants prefer Palestine and the modern territory of Israel to visit 'their' holy land.
Fredrik Doeka, in September 2011 doctor in Utrecht on a dissertation about the man who never came to Israel, Moses, wrote a typical protestant article, doubting whether there is real 'holy land': no places of pilgrimage are without debate and the trip itself is often subject of corruption, entertainment rather than devotion. Read his spicy article in Sinar Harapan:

 I was born in a Catholic family with a mother who loved all kind of pilgrimage: she did not like crowded services in big churches with complicated liturgies, but rather wanted to visit small places with statues of Mary, Joseph, Saint Anthony or other popular saints. She did not bother so much about all the business surrounding the pilgrimage: she like the souvernir shops of Lourdes with their booklets, statues and images. Also these people have to earn their money and pilgrimage may be a mixture of religion and business. This is not the style of our austern and serious young doctor from Kupang. Doeka reasd the Qur'an and Jewish scripture and concludes that it is not all praise for Jerusalem, but also strict defamations. Therefore Israel in general or Jerusalem more specifically is not per se a sacred place or holy land. Doeka also blames the modern business among Protestants: apparently the new president of the Synod of GMIT, the Timorese Evangelical Protestant Church, is quite active in the business of religious travelling. He initiated short after his election to his function, a trip of quite a few Protestant minister of Timor to the Holy Land. The journey is partly supported by one of the candidates to become mayor of Kupang: in order to secure his election this candidate has paid the ticket for a nice number of minister and their partners. In this way the pilgrimage has become business as usual again. Is this old or new tradition in Timor? For me, it is definitely an old mixture of religion and politics, of the serious and some entertainment. I wish all travellers a nice, profitable and pious trip!

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