Massimo Zaccaria

Forbidden Lands. Mecca, the Pilgrimage and Colonial Empires during the Great War

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Mecca, Pilgrimage, First World War, H. usayn ibn ‘Alī, Red Sea, Eritrea

The Ka’ba – God’s House on the earth – has made Mecca the Axis Mundi of the Islamic world and for centuries the possession of Mecca and the holy sister city of Medina, with their enormous symbolic power, the possibility of posing and acting as guardians of the Holy Places and protectors of pilgrimage, represented one of the main sources of legitimacy and prestige for rulers in the Islamic world. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, the control of Mecca and Medina and the organization of the h. ajj (pilgrimage) remained firmly under Muslim control, but this situation began to change at the end of the nineteenth century, when most of the Muslim world was under some form of colonial rule. The quest for legitimacy and control were the driving forces that pushed European countries to interfere in H. ijàz’s affairs. Great Britain and France, claiming the obligation to assist pilgrims from their territories on their way to Mecca, significantly enhanced their presence in H. ijàz. In 1917, Italy too decided to purchase a hostel in Mecca for destitute pilgrims from its colonies. A careful analysis of the documentation relating to this operation allows us to understand how, alongside deriving prestige and legitimacy from improving pilgrimage facilities, Italy’s involvement in the h. ajj was driven by the need to affirm Italy’s sphere of influence in the new geopolitics of the Red Sea and counter British and French expansionist plans

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