The British Empire and the hajj 1865-1939
Meetings and Proceedings
The 1861 cholera epidemic, which began in India and swept through Europe, carried by pilgrims on their way to Arabia to perform the hajj, was the catalyst for greater British involvement with the fifth pillar of Islam. British interaction with the hajj, which began with supervising the quarantine stations that were established at Arabia's maritime gateways, developed into a bureaucratic apparatus spread over Britain's Muslim territories, as well as the British Consulate in Jedda. This bureaucracy attempted to regulate various aspects of the hajj experience. Preventing the spread of epidemic disease remained a primary concern, but other duties the British took upon themselves were assistance to so-called 'pauper pilgrims' from British territories stranded in Arabia and monitoring the traffic of slaves to Arabia who were passed off as pilgrims. As Britain became the ruler of the largest number of Muslims in the world in the early twentieth century, it became acutely conscious of its expanded role in facilitating the smooth operation of the hajj each year, as an advertisement to its Muslim subjects that Britain was sensitive and supportive towards Islam. British sensitivity towards this Islamic ritual was further shown in its sponsoring of Indian Muslim soldiers based in Egypt to perform the hajj during the First World War.