Over the last years, in average, 2,1 million people per year performed the hajj. These millions stand in contrast to the numbers visiting Mecca half a century ago. On average, until 1946 a rough 60,000 pilgrims visited Mecca annually, with at least half of these coming from the Arabian Peninsula. Today Saudi nationals make up about a quarter of all pilgrims. The explanations for the staggering thirtyfold increase in total pilgrims, and the even more spectacular growth of the number of foreign pilgrims in slightly more than half a century are quite simple. First of all, the increasing world population in general led to larger numbers of pilgrims. Second, the journey became safer and better organised during the 20th century. In those parts of the Muslim world where it was not already (the Ottoman Empire), the organisation of the hajj became a state affair, organised first by the colonial authorities, and by the postcolonial states afterwards. Third, despite growing disparities in the distribution of global economic wealth an increasing number of Muslims could afford to pay for the journey. And finally the availability of cheap mechanical mass transport increased over this time period. This paper will look at these interconnected reasons for the spectacular growth of the hajj in the past half century from a world historical perspective, focussing on the West African Sahel in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this paper I hope to sketch how state rule, changing economies, motorised mass transport, and religion are interconnected phenomena, which are all shaped by and giving shape to world historical events in the Muslim world. The focus will be largely on the changing demography and social geography of the pilgrimage journey to Mecca as performed by pilgrims from the Sahel, and the changing significance of this journey in their lives. © 2013 Baz Lecocq.
- Colonial and postcolonial state