Michael Wolfe begins his story in Morocco, a country where he has spent much time and is very comfortable, where he prepares himself for the hadj by immersing himself in Islamic culture, living with friends and learning about the process of undertaking the hadj. He encounters many kinds of people in his sojourn in Morocco, and he slowly begins to understand that the hadj is less a physical journey to the holy sites of Islam than it is a kind of spiritual journey. The preparations for the journey are long and arduous, like the hadj itself, and Wolfe is told again and again that each stumbling block is a kind of test of his faith.
Wolfe’s description of the many phases of the hadj, the many requirements that must be fulfilled once the pilgrims have arrived in the holy city of Mecca, which is closed to non-Muslims, is remarkable. It must have been no small feat to accomplish the many duties of the pilgrim while making notes in preparation for the book he intended to write. He writes powerfully of the effects of the various stages of the hadj on the pilgrims, and his descriptions of the ancient rituals are juxtaposed with descriptions of the many ways in which the Saudi Arabian hosts of the pilgrims have used modern technology to facilitate the hadj. There is, for example, an airport in Mecca that exists only to serve pilgrims, and the sacred waters of the Zamzam spring have been piped to distribution centers all over the city to relieve the crush of...
(The entire section is 403 words.)