Each year, about two million pilgrims from over 100 countries converge on the Islamic holy city of Mecca for the hajj. While the hajj is first and foremost a religious festival, it is also very much a political event. No government can resist the temptation to manipulate the hajj for political and economic gain. Every large Muslim state has developed a comprehensive hajj policy and a powerful bureaucracy to enforce it. The Muslim world's leading multinational organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has established the first international regime explicitly devoted to pilgrimage. Yet, Robert Bianchi argues, no secular or religious authority - national or international - can really control the hajj. State-sponsored pilgrimage management consistently backfires, giving government opponents valuable ammunition and allowing them to manipulate the symbols and controversies of the hajj to their own ends.
Bianchi has been researching the hajj for over ten years and draws on interviews with and data from hajj directors in five Muslim countries (Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia, and Nigeria), statistics from Saudi Arabian hajj authorities, as well as his personal experience as a pilgrim. The result is the most complete picture of the hajj available anywhere, and a wide-ranging work on Islam, politics, and power.