Pilgrimage travel: Too many sites with very little insights?

Opinion: In our Middle East context and maybe more within the Muslim Arab culture we live in, a pilgrim is a title one carries for life.

Pilgrimage travel: Too many sites with very little insights?

Opinion: In our Middle East context and maybe more within the Muslim Arab culture we live in, a pilgrim is a title one carries for life. Once you visit holy grounds, you become a Haj “a pilgrim.” For the community you live in, this means to some extent that you become one of the elders, one who is wiser than before, and one who people look up to for judgment and advice. Bearing this title means you need to be worthy of it – not for your sake, but for the sake of others.

In our Palestinian context, a pilgrim is presented with a question. Are we here pilgrims visiting with the occupier or the occupied? Are we here for our own sake or also for the sake of others, our hosts in this context? As one of our Palestinian leaders, the late Mr. Faisal Husseini, said, “We invite you to visit the prisoner, not the guards.”

Pilgrims may come and go. They might get the spiritual touch while visiting the empty tomb and the holy places. Maybe they will also exchange some very little talk with a merchant or two. They might get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to Jericho and into Nazareth and Tiberias without knowing the difference between Palestine and Israel, between what was occupied in 1967 or destroyed in 1948.

A pilgrimage is a journey with spiritual and moral dimensions. One can do it simply guided by others, or one can do it with self-determination in search of spiritual and moral satisfaction. When one makes a pilgrimage to a place that enjoys normal political stability, it is expected that everything will go smoothly as planned. A pilgrimage to this holy land in Palestine has gone through difficult times, and a pilgrimage at some instances have played a role in igniting wars, building colonies, and conquering the land in the name of religion. A pilgrimage to Palestine is different.

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Pilgrims to this land should ask themselves: If we are here, and we engage in a pilgrimage that is organized or manipulated by the occupier, how much are we sharing in the crime? How much are we contributing to making occupation legitimate? Are we here to search for moral and spiritual connection with our brothers and sisters who are living under military occupation? Or do we just refrain from coming, and save the trouble of making all these decisions? In general, any international engagement on the ground – whether relief, economic, or otherwise – walks a thin line of whether it is helping to end occupation in Palestine or just making it more accommodating and thus prolonging it.

It is a choice every pilgrim should at least be given the chance to choose. Unfortunately, most pilgrims who come on a visit to this land are not given this choice and thus come on a pre-tailored program that includes so many sites with so little insights. The pilgrims industry stakeholders are asked to offer the chance of choosing for those pilgrims who want an experience of knowing and not only receiving, those who want to share an experience rather than buy one that is tailored and ready.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Where do You dwell?” he offered them, “Come and see.”

As we know, justice, truth and love are the will of God, so then we must seek it in every step we make in our pilgrimage. Pilgrims should start weighing their journeys’ aims as unaccomplished unless these questions are made clear and checked and double-checked from the first moment they start thinking of this visit, throughout the journey, and after they go back.

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