The Hajj attracts millions of Muslims every year who travel to the city of Mecca to perform this pilgrimage. Yet, to Kholoud Al-Ajarma’s knowledge no country-specific ethnographic study had been done on the topic so far. Therefore, she conducted research on how the Hajj affects the daily lives of Muslims, in order to understand more about the social, cultural, and economic issues in a Muslim country such as Morocco. On Thursday 10 September she will defend her thesis in order to receive the PhD degree in Comparative Study of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies.
Kholoud Al-Ajarma’s PhD project is part of a larger programme funded by NWO, which studies personal stories about modern Meccan pilgrimage or Hajj. The overarching question asked by both her and this larger project is how references to religiosity, social identification and self-identity reflect the ways in which the habitus of hajjis (pilgrims) is informed by various cultural discourses simultaneously. Kholoud conducted research on the ways in which Moroccan views on Hajj are negotiated in everyday social relations and micro-practices: ‘In Morocco, being a Hajji(a) comes with high religious status and until recently was generally associated with older people. Approaching pilgrimage from the perspective of “lived religion”, I studied the ways in which the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, is embedded in Moroccan society.’
She spent a total of 18 months in Morocco between the Summer of 2015 and the Winter of 2017, ‘I participated in the daily lives of Moroccan pilgrims across the full spectrum of life’s rich tapestry: I observed their actions, listened to their stories, and interacted with them in their homes, places of work and of leisure. I followed the pilgrimage application process and the preparations of pilgrims before embarking on their Hajj journey. I accompanied families to the airport as they paid farewell to departing pilgrims and as they welcomed them back upon their return. My conversations were many and varied on all of these aforementioned occasions, often discussing at length their experiences in Mecca and the rich ramifications of the pilgrimage.
The red thread that runs through my thesis is the argument that – although the Hajj is performed in a place far away from Morocco, taking Moroccans out of their daily life worlds – the practices, experiences and the meanings that they attach to Hajj are shaped by their life and world in Morocco, and in turn go on to shape, their life and world upon return.’
Kholoud Al-Ajarma is from Palestine and obtained her first MA degree in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution from Coventry University (UK). After that she completed a Research Master in Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Bergen (Norway). She chose Groningen to do her PhD project: ‘The University of Groningen is well known for its academic record and its Theology department is renowned for its programmes. I was also interested in working with Professor Marjo Buitelaar, who is an expert on the Anthropology of Islam and I wanted to be mentored by her in order to develop as a researcher in the fields of Anthropology and Islam,’ Kholoud explains.
‘I would like to continue working in research and teaching. During my PhD studies I was privileged to get the opportunity to teach at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies along with my PhD research which I enjoyed very much. I would like to have a similar work field that will allow me to do ethnographic research and at the same time contribute to the academic field of anthropology by teaching, publishing, and developing research projects on subjects that raise awareness of Muslim-majority countries specifically, and more religious and anthropological topics in general.’ Kholoud Al-Ajarma tells us she is currently applying for jobs including postdocs so we wish her the best of luck in regard to her future plans, as well as to her upcoming promotion ceremony!
On 10 September, Kholoud Al-Ajarma will defend her dissertation ‘Mecca in Morocco: Negotiating the Meanings of Hajj in Everyday Life’ in order to receive the doctoral degree in Comparative Study of Religion. This will be done in the presence of her promoter Prof. Marjo Buitelaar, Professor of Contemporary Islam, and copromoter Dr Clare Wilde, former Rosalind Franklin Fellow and Assistant Professor (tenure track) of Islamic Origins at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen. The digital PhD ceremony can be followed via the livestream below.
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