THE HADJ by Michael Wolfe


An American's Pilgrimage to Mecca
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 A rare firsthand account, by an American writer and recent Muslim convert, of a journey to the geographical heart of ``the least understood of the world's great religions.'' Wolfe postpones his trip to Mecca until the second half of his narrative, preceding it with a colorful but meandering description of his sojourn in Morocco. There, he wanders through noisy bazaars, sleeps on sheepskins, chats with Moroccan friends about politics and faith, watches a Sufi group chant and sway, visits Paul Bowles, dons a djellaba for daily Islamic prayers, and gradually comes to feel more at home in that exotic culture. But all this is padding, if skillfully stitched together. Readers will sigh with relief when Wolfe's plane finally touches down in Jiddah and he emerges into the blistering heat of a Saudi summer. Here, again, Wolfe insists on detailing countless conversations with friends and companions, but he also describes--as vividly as any writer before him--the swelter and crush of millions of pilgrims jostling past the Kaaba (the great cubical stone in the center of Mecca's great mosque) or wending their way to the valley of Arafat. Everyone wears the pilgrim's white terry-cloth robes; personal identity is submerged; all eyes are on Allah. While in Mecca, not all is religion--Wolfe mediates an automobile deal, reads Lord Jim, meets pilgrims from around the world--but everything remains subordinate to the author's being at the core of ``the final, matured expression of an original religion reaching back to Adam.'' Brief forays into Islamic theology and history help explain things--with some cheerleading--for untutored readers. Notable, in these muted polemical digressions, is Wolfe's decision to ignore the most common criticisms of Islam, for its views on violence and on women. Too cluttered, and blemished by sly jibes at Judaism and Christianity, but still memorable as travelogue and Islamic apologetic.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1993
ISBN: 0-87113-518-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993