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the Complete Review
the complete review - travel / religion

Mumbai to Mecca

Ilija Trojanow

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To purchase Mumbai to Mecca

Title: Mumbai to Mecca
Author: Ilija Trojanow
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 166 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Mumbai to Mecca - US
Mumbai to Mecca - UK
Mumbai to Mecca - Canada
Zu den heiligen Quellen des Islam - Deutschland
  • A Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Islam
  • German title: Zu den heiligen Quellen des Islam: Als Pilger nach Mekka und Medina
  • Translated by Rebecca Morrison

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Our Assessment:

B : fine account, but too much that isn't addressed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/11/2004 Wolfgang G. Lerch
Die Welt . 18/9/2004 Iris Alanyali
Die Zeit . 23/9/2004 Tobias Gohlis

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dem westlichen Autor und Muslim Trojanow widerfährt, was bisher noch jedem Pilger in Mekka widerfahren ist: Er wird Teil der Einzigartigkeit dieses heiligen Ortes einer Weltreligion, die sich noch immer den Luxus erlaubt, in einer Zeit des Massentourismus und des Rechts auf freien Zutritt zu jedem Ort der Welt eine Tabu-Zone zu proklamieren, wo man unter sich ist." - Wolfgang Günter Lerch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Sein Blick ist der des emphatischen Betrachters, er ist unsentimental in der Beobachtung, aber ergriffen im persönlichen Erleben. (…) Sein Reisebericht wird so zu einer Einführung in den Islam, einer Einführung auf Grund von Emotionen, weniger Informationen. Das macht die eine Stärke seines Buches aus." - Iris Alanyali, Die Welt

  • "Ihm geht nicht, wie anderen Frischbekehrten, der Mund über -- gerade deshalb gelingen ihm Schilderungen, in denen sich seine euphorische Stimmung gesteigerter religiöser Intensität ohne jeden missionarischen Eifer dem Leser unmittelbar mitteilt. Trojanow deckt keine Geheimnisse auf, enthüllt nichts über den Islam. (...) Ein Buch, das die guten Seiten des praktizierten Islams herausstellt, wichtig gerade heute." - Tobias Gohlis, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Mumbai to Mecca Ilija Trojanow provides yet another persoanl account of the hajj. He begins with -- and centres his account -- around the actual pilgrimage, but in some of the short chapters then also recounts his preparations for the undertaking in India over the course of the year before.
       Much of the book is travelogue, Trojanow describing the details of the trip, from the bureaucracy and waits, the conditions, the often very slow progress among the millions following the same path, the crushing dangers at some of the pivotal stops, to the rapture (and occasional weariness) of the participants. It is fascinating, just from the sheer masses involved -- with Trojanow also drawing some comparisons to how it used to be, when the dangers were much greater, diseases easily passed around, criminals taking advantage of the pilgrims (though theft is apparently not unheard of nowadays either) -- as well as the rituals involved and the expectations of the participants.
       A major problem with the book is that it's not quite clear where Trojanow stands, specifically whether he journeys as a Muslim man, fulfilling an obligation, or whether he is an infiltrator (like Richard Burton, whom he wrote about in Der Weltensammler), pretending to be something he is not in order to gain access to these holy sites. Confusingly, Trojanow has denied having converted to Islam (see, for example, this interview ) -- but has since fudged the issue by maintaining Islam isn't something one can convert to .....
       There seems no doubt that Trojanow has embraced Islam -- he spent a good deal of time and effort preparing himself for the hajj, and he seems to have become a follower -- but that doesn't make matters that much clearer. While he generally remains an observer in his account, his opinions seem to come through pretty clearly. He obviously like the laid-back version of Islam, with a focus on the spirit, not the letter of the Koran. The Indonesians are most sympathetic, while in a rare actual criticism he denounces the Wahabi (and general Saudi) approach.
       Despite repeatedly noting that so much effort is expended on empty, rote memorization and going through specific motions (praying five times a day, the ritual washing) and expressing some disappointment about that and the fact that there's little effort at reading the Koran in any sort of critical or questioning way (the words accepted as they are, without any thought as to the implications or reasons), Trojanow seems most drawn to this intellectually empty, almost content-less form of Islam as well. In his description of learning how to say prayers or words, or how to properly wash, his account sounds almost like the accounts of those of who have turned to Buddhism, focussed on repeating a single word or action for a great length of time to find some inner truth, 'om' as readily substitutable for any of the Arabic words and prayers, the rituals different only in the specifics (but not in the general feel). Indeed, Trojanow seems to be only after the 'feel' of the religion, with barely a word about the origins and foundations of Islam, much less the implications of being Muslim in the contemporary world. He doesn't seem to care what the religion is based on (or much of what others think it demands), happy just to embrace the spiritual concept that he sees it embodying -- whatever that is.
       The hajj is, of course, an almost unique situation, where Muslims exclude all non-believers and focus only on their faith, but in not taking a stand -- is he a firm believer ? a religious tourist ? playing along for a few days to see what it's like ? -- Trojanow can only convey so much. The people he meets do make for a broader picture, but again Trojanow never delves very far (or does more than relate); interestingly, too, he presents himself as a fraud here, claiming he is Indian -- a seemingly unnecessary deception that doesn't seem in the spirit of the journey (or religion) .....
       Mumbai to Mecca is a decent hajj-account. Trojanow does write well, and there is enough of interest here -- but in not making his own position sufficiently clear the book feels unsatisfactory.

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Reviews: Ilija Trojanow: Other books by Ilija Trojanow under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Travel-related books
  • See Index of books dealing with Religion
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Ilija Trojanow was born in Bulgaria in 1965 but grew up and was educated in Kenya and Germany. He currently lives in South Africa, but writes in German.

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