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Pilgrim visas, the Hajj, and MERS-CoV

[ by Charles Cameron — it’s all a matter of concentric circles and the integration of the vertical — ibn Arabi ]


The concentric circles around the Kaaba ripple out across our world. This means we should be watchful at the intersection of three overlapping regions in a Venn diagram: pilgrim visas, MERS-CoV epidemiology, and pilgrim dispersal.

John Burgess of Crossroads Arabia is the only one I know focusing on the conjunction, see his Saudis Restrict Pilgrim Visas.

The point I’d like to be hinting at here is that whereas MERS-CoV epidemiology is a scientific monitoring and interpretive matter using Science Rules, and visa issues are mostly matters of bureaucracy, the Hajj itself is a matter of the most passionate devotional concern, and a “purely rational” understanding will hardly scratch its surface.


Those with a mixture of poetry and scholarship in their souls may wish to read Love Letters to the Ka’ba: a presentation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Tâj al-Rasâ’il to glimpse the Kaaba as seen by the al-Sheikh al-Akbar, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi:

Charles-Andre Gilis has pointed out that in the Islamic tradition the Ka’ba symbolises the centre of every state of Being, as is demonstrated by the tradition recorded by Ibn ‘Abbas according to which there exists a Ka’ba, similar to the one belonging to our world, in each of the seven heavens and seven earths (cf. La Doctrine Initiatique du Pélerinage, Paris, 1982, pp. 45-6). In the introduction to the Tâj, Ibn ‘Arabi refers to the Visited House (al-bayt al-ma’mûr), situated in the seventh heaven, the celestial prototype of the Ka’ba (p. 557).

As Gilis also observes, the Ka’ba is perceived by Ibn ‘Arabi as a manifestation of the divine Essence (Tâjallî dhâtî). However, he situates it, due to its mineral nature, in the lowest level of Being. But it is precisely the inferior character of its external aspect that allows it to sustain the ladder of beings and to identify itself on each level. It is thus described as “celestial constitution, angelic reality, young girl with formed breasts, level of the perceptible realm, and Meccan dignity (at the same time this constitutes an excellent example of the assonances of his rhymed prose: nash’a falakiyya wa haqîqa malakiyya wa jâriya falkiyya wa martaba mulkiyya wa rutba makkiyya) (p. 555).” Ibn ‘Arabi himself is astonished at the number of contradictory aspects that this being is able to bring together: “Oh marvel: divine constitution, simil (mithliyya), angelic, human, superior and inferior in which we find validity and deficiency, multiplicity and scarcity.” (p. 556)

The devotional aspect of the Hajj is orthogonal to the realism of bureaucracies and epidemiology — but not on that account any the less powerful!

One Response to “Pilgrim visas, the Hajj, and MERS-CoV”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    Update, from FP today:

    A scary virus is sweeping Saudi Arabia. Six million religious pilgrims are about to descend on the country from across the world. The result could be disastrous.

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