Odessa as a Hajj Hub: 1880s to 1910s

Eileen Kane, Connecticut College


One unexpected result of Russia’s modernization drive after the Crimean War was that the empire became a crossroads of the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This paper explores Odessa’s role as a hajj hub between the 1880s and 1910s. It forms part of a larger project that looks at Russian imperial policy toward the hajj. The project reconstructs the geography of the hajj under tsarist rule, exploring how Russia both absorbed ancient hajj routes through conquests of Muslim lands and helped forge new ones with its development of modern transportation networks in its southern borderlands. It argues that Russia, like other European imperial powers, began to sponsor the hajj in the nineteenth century, establishing a network of institutions and services between the empire and Mecca to serve its Muslim subjects making the pilgrimage. Drawing on both state documents about the hajj from the Russian imperial archives, and sources produced by and for Russia’s Muslims (hajj memoirs and newspaper articles), the book examines both the complex motivations behind state sponsorship of the hajj and varied Muslim responses to it.

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