MESA Book Awards
Robert R. Bianchi
University of Chicago
2005 Albert Hourani Book Award Winner
Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World
Oxford University Press, 2004
Guests of God is a beautifully composed and structured and highly sympathetic treatment of the complexity of contemporary Islam institutionally, transnationally, as a collective identity and as a participant in and generator of “globalization.”
Through its subject focus, and as it weaves country studies of hajj politics into contemporary global politics, the book manages to redefine what “globalization” is and who is “doing” it. Guests of God explores the variability and complexity within one country—from Malaysia to Pakistan to Turkey, Nigeria, and Indonesia—to the various forces and interests that go into hajj management as well as into the actual composition of each year’s hajj attendance and the complex negotiations between the Saudi state, as custodian of the holy places, and Muslim communities across the world. Dr. Bianchi considers variables of region, race, class, and gender, bringing all of them to bear on the hajj while simultaneously showing how the hajj entails and defines society-wide issues of difference and indeed of the very composition of the state. Drawing on extensive field research, though much of it is necessarily presented anonymously, Dr. Bianchi manages to both “de-mystify” the hajj and preserve its spiritual meaning, and superbly maintains a balance between acute critique and deep respect.
One committee member praised “the evocative language and hard-nosed analysis of its more mundane, socio-political and economic dimensions, including gender and inter-faith issues. The individual country studies indicate the diversity in the social and political capital attached to the Hajj and those who undertake it. The book combines excellent scholarship with enormous readability. I hate to sound like a book blurb”—this committee member went on—“but Guests of God is that rare thing, an academic book that is accessible to a broad audience.”
As another committee member commented, “Dr. Bianchi's book takes a fresh approach to studying the role of Islam in contemporary politics. He weaves together observations about the Hajj as a barometer of Islamic revival and its impact on state policies from Southeast Asia to the Middle East. His analysis is profound and sweeping without losing attention to detail. Its framework and perspective are daringly new, and the book breaks the mold in the study of political Islam.” The committee congratulates Dr. Bianchi for a work that we hope will reach—and teach--many readers.