June 2013: The Haj


It is fun to reread a book many
years after you first read it. Age
brings the wisdom you lacked
earlier. I just reread THE HAJ
by Leon Uris. I appreciated it
more today than when I first
read it. The following is from

The Haj is a novel published in 1984 by American author Leon Uris about a Palestinian
Arab family caught up in the area’s historic events of the 1920s-1950s as witnessed by
Ishmael, the youngest son. The story begins in 1922 when Ibrahim, Ishmael's father,
takes over the position of muktar from his dying father in the relatively isolated village of
Tabah in the Ajalon Valley, just off the main road leading to Jerusalem from Jaffa. The
book then goes on to show how the family is affected by the proximity of nearby kibbutz
Shemesh, by the political struggles exhibited and the pressures exerted by the region’s
Arab leaders during the course of 35 years, and by the disruptive effect being a refugee
had on them.

Haj in the novel's title refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca which every able-bodied Muslim
who can afford to do so is obliged to make at least once in his or her lifetime. Literally,
it refers to the pilgrimage which the head of the family, Ibrahim al Soukori al Wahhabi,
made to Mecca in his young adulthood, and which gave him the honorific Hajji used
throughout the book. Figuratively it refers to both the transforming physical journey that
the family makes from its home in Tabah to the refugee camps near Jericho, and to the
psychic transformations that the family endures as it is ripped away from its traditional
life and sees, one-by-one its values being eroded.