Tourism, Religious Journey and Spirituality in Middle East

  March 08, 2021   Read time 4 min
Tourism, Religious Journey and Spirituality in Middle East
Middle East is one of the most important regions of the world. This region is home to numerous traditions and customs each one of which carry invaluable historical experiences that have built the identity of nations in the course of time.

In the Middle East, tourism may accelerate long dormant conflicts or strengthen the mutual understanding between hosts and guests. However, as MacCannell asserts, ‘some conservative’ religions are under oath to accept the secularized values tourism promotes. He explores the importance of tourism in the economies of some underdeveloped nations in the Middle East. To some extent, the Muslim world experienced interesting changes, which were promoted by the arrival of modernity. Although not all Arabic nations share the same hostility against the West, no less true is that they have developed a pejorative connotation around tourism because of its secular origin. Of course, tourism moves the cultural encounter to the foreground, taking different shapes which range from a feeling of abhorrence to the habits of First World tourists to a wide and friendly adoption of Western customs. In this respect, when the religious norms are defied or threatened by tourists, locals develop a sentiment of indifference or hostility against foreigners. Contrariwise, if tourism generates positive effects for local economies without altering the local habits, tourism and Islam may cooperate. This position, like others, seems to be trapped into a conceptual gridlock, which suggests that tourism is a Western invention which was adopted by the Muslim world at a later time. The introduction of tourism in the Middle East was a consequence of improvement in means of transport and other technological advances encouraged by Europe and the USA. Most likely they glossed over the fact that the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca (which dates back to the 8th century) does not have the rational elements of modern tourism, but indeed this event concentrates a great number of Muslims. The term means ‘the attempt of a journey’ and it is not limited to Islam or other ancient cultures. As Korstanje and Seraphin observed, closer scrutiny of the Latin term feriae alludes to a temporal leave endorsed by Roman citizens to visit their families and relatives for a period of 3 months duration. After a year of hard work, Romans left the Italian Peninsula heading towards different provinces of the Roman Empire. That way, the empire not only revalidated the loyalties of non-native Romans but Rome kept solidarity with the rest of its colonies. This word (feriae) was the etymological root for the German and Portuguese words for holiday, resulting in die ferien (German) and das férias (Portuguese). Examples like this suggest that theorists of tourism should pay attention beyond the border of the Middle Ages, looking for ‘ancient forms of tourism’. On the other hand, MacCannell and Vukonic over ́ - looked that tourism appears to be ‘the maiden of empires’. Contemporary tourist behaviours emulate the modern values of English-speaking nations in the same way that travels in Rome endorsed the Roman character. David Riesman in his book The Lonely Crowd provides an interesting example of what has been already said. Riesman contemplated history in three different but cyclical stages: (i) tradition-directed; (ii) inner-directed; and (iii) other-directed. The passage from one to the other stage is far from being unilineal but it is circular. Often empires adopt an other-directed character in order to subordinate the overseas economies into a concentrated exemplary centre, while hunters and gatherers accepted a tradition-directed one. By the same token, a tradition-directed subtype emerged in societies characterized by laws that were established from time immemorial (e.g. the Middle Ages). Rather, the inner-directed form surfaced just after the Protestant Reform where the subject was enthralled as the epicentre of ethical virtue and self-defiance. The rise of modernity accelerated the transformation of this self-punitive character into a novel form, the Other-directed where the ‘distant Other’ occupied a central role. The cosmology on the other oriented character attempted to gain the Other’s acceptance (approval) decentering from inner to outer life. Certainly, the ‘inner-directed’ ethos that marked the religious life of Puritans was gradually changed to new forms. The curiosity for ‘Others’ stems from the imposition of other directed relational forms. The passage from ‘inner-directed’, that characterized the Protestant Reform, sets the pace to ‘Other-directed’ cosmology once the novels, travels and the interest for exotic cultures surfaced. The curiosity for the ‘Other’ (MacCannell would agree) is inextricably linked to the capitalist ethos. However, as Riesman puts it, the alternation of tradition-oriented, inner-oriented and other-oriented traits are not marked by a unilineal evolution of history but in cycles which are based on the economic conditions of society. Other-oriented types can be found in the major empires of humankind. In this context, travel and tourism accompany the demographic transformation of empire as well as the index of their peripheral areas of exploitation.

Write your comment