Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

The Hadj

Michael Wolfe © 1993– ISBN: 9780802135865

The Hadj, the religious pilgrimage required of all Muslims at least once in their lifetimes to the walled city of Mecca, is, to many Westerners, a mysterious journey to an exotic locale that outsiders will never be able to visit. Michael Wolfe, born to a Christian mother and Jewish father in Cincinnati, Ohio certainly grew up as a Westerner. He grew up in the Midwest maybe not between races or countries, but still between two different religious cultures. However he would take this background and incorporate it into his Muslim convert identity, being careful not to “trade in” his old identity for the new, but to find where the new and the old worked hand in hand and even where they embellished one another.

In The Hadj, Wolfe writes of his background, what it was like to grow up between the Christian and Jewish traditions, of his eventual and at the time recent conversion to Islam and how this wandering and winding journey would guide him on his journey to hadj. In fact, Wolfe writes his book on hadj in a very meandering way, much as if he were on that journey with the reader, lifting the so-called veil over the pilgrimage and Mecca and giving outsiders like myself access to what it is like to go on hadj, those that he meets along the way, and a partial inkling into what it is like to be one of the millions of pilgrims crowding into the same city during the same month for the same holy ritual. One is given access to every sense he experiences, every high and low, good and bad. One gets to see the sites and witness the spiritual. In a sense, one gets to experience hadj.

Wolfe’s The Hadj is often considered on the newer side of things to be a classic experience of the modern hadj. If one wanted to understand the experience of an outsider that became an insider on the journey, this is a good place to start. Once there, it is easy enough to find other pilgrimage narratives in which to immerse oneself and discover the amazingly spiritual journey that is the hadj for Muslims and, for those of us not of the faith, to see second hand the wonders of the city of Mecca.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.