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.
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