The City as Liminal Space: Holy Sites and Islamic Pilgrimage to Jerusalem During the Mamlūk Period (648-922/1250-1517)

By Fadi Ragheb
Submitted to Session P4517 (Liminal Spaces from Sacred to Urban: The Friday Mosque and the City, 2016 Annual Meeting
Islamic World; Palestine; Syria; The Levant;
13th-18th Centuries; 7th-13th Centuries; Mamluk Studies; Medieval; Mediterranean Studies; Urban Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Islamic pilgrimage represented an inextricable part of life in Jerusalem during the medieval period. As Islam’s third holiest city and a place deeply connected with Biblical traditions, Jerusalem was visited by many Muslims from across the Islamic world. Considering the sanctity of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, it was a frequent sight to see many Muslims worshiping on the Ḥaram al-Sharīf complex, including Muslim pilgrims performing the annual iḥrām en route to the hajj. This phenomenon grew exponentially during the late-medieval Mamlūk period (648-922/1250-1517). The Mamlūk era thus produced the largest number of Islamic pilgrimage guides to Jerusalem, the Faḍā’il al-Quds, as well as a corpus of Muslim travelogue writings.

Significantly, to a medieval Muslim pilgrim, the sacred in Jerusalem was not only limited to the Ḥaram al-Sharīf complex. While the Ḥaram constituted Islam’s sacred epicenter in the city and a pilgrim's starting point, Islamic pilgrimage routes in Jerusalem extended to holy sites located beyond the Ḥaram. In fact, evidence from the Faḍā’il al-Quds pilgrimage guides and travelogue literature reveals a pilgrimage route that extended Muslims’ worship to a number of holy places outside the Ḥaram and within the city itself, including Miḥrāb Dāwūd in the City Gate, the Church of St. Mary (Miḥrāb Maryam), and the Mount of Olives (Ṭūr Zaytā). Since Islamic sacred spaces were scattered across Jerusalem, both inside and outside the Ḥaram, the rigid boundaries delimiting the Islamic sacred landscape from the secular urban space became less fixed, and, in turn, the city became one large liminal space.

Using the Faḍā’il al-Quds and travelogue literature, this study will investigate Mamlūk Jerusalem’s network of Islamic holy sites on its Ḥaram complex and outside it. It will attempt to answer the following questions: First, which Islamic holy sites did Muslim pilgrims visit on the Ḥaram complex? Second, what other sites did Muslim pilgrims visit outside the Ḥaram? And, consequently, what were the routes taken by Muslim pilgrims around Jerusalem to reach these places? Finally, what were the rituals performed by Muslims at each sacred location? The study will thus attempt to demonstrate how, due to the presence of holy sites throughout the city, Islamic sacred spaces in Mamlūk Jerusalem extended beyond the Ḥaram al-Sharīf complex, where the sacred, it will be argued, did not cease to exist past the confines of the Ḥaram, but, instead, permeated the city.