Sacred Sites in Contested Regions

Maqam Abu al-Hijja, Kaukab

This small pilgrimage Muslim site is located in the central lower Galilee next to the village of Kaukab Abu al-Hijja. Set amidst an olive orchard and the local graveyard Maqam (shrine in Arabic) Abu al-

Hijja today is far from being an impressive or an extravagant landmark. It consists of two small halls, one serves as the entrance in which pilgrims can sit and pray and another one in which two tombs are located. This is the sacred center of the maqam where the pilgrims come to ask for the intercession of Abu al-Hijja with their special requests. The compound consists also of a courtyard in which a cistern is to be found. The entrance to the sacred area is through this courtyard which has a gate but is never really locked. The roof is adorned with two identical domes. In 1989 a new mayor was elected to the village municipality. Shortly after beginning his time in office he launched a renovation project which included among other historical sites the maqam of Abu al-Hijja. The renovation project included complete do over of internal parts of the maqam. In addition to renewal of the plaster and repainting of the walls, the external side of the domes was painted with the traditional green. The place is visited year round mostly by locals and from the surrounding villages. Occasionally, people pilgrimage to the site from more distanced places. 


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Since 2001, I (Nimrod) have been conducting visits and fieldwork at the maqam. This consists mostly of weekly visitations to the site and informal encounters with pilgrims. Time and again these informal talks develop into scheduled meetings and in-depth interviews usually at the interlocutors preferred locations. In one such interview I have discussed the renovation of the maqam with Ahmad Hajj who was the mayor that initiated the project in the 1990s. Hajj who is of the left wing secular Arab Jewish party of Hadash (al-Jabha as it is called in Arabic namely the front). I was trying to understand what is by now a recurrent phenomenon in our project which is the involvement of self-declared secularists in what might seem to a highly religious activity. Why is it I asked that you were so involved in the renovation of this scared site?

I wanted to renovate all historical sites. True, I am not a religious person but I think that some places need to be preserved by the people they belong to because they are part of their history. If you do not have a history you do not have anything. and especially because I am not religious I renovated the place because I wanted that my history in the area will not be erased (December 28, 2005).

Hajj was addressing the political aspects of minority’s attachments to its sacred heritage and landscape against the Omni-power of the state and the hegemonic group as well as his own identity politics of resistance. For Najdiyya from Sakhnin coming here and praying carries a different meaning altogether:

The daughter of one of the people that come here was diagnosed with cancer. …they all came here (members of the group she belongs to) and she slept between the two tombs and you are not going to believe what happened. Listen, she slept here between the two tombs and we were all here and on one of the graves a masbaha (ritual Islamic necklace) was hanging and when the woman got up the masbaha flew over and landed on her neck. Since that day, some 7-8 years ago this woman is healthy and strong as a horse (August 24, 2013)


20.3.2014 - I was visiting the site with students from Kinneret College as part of their Sacred Sites campus. Najwan our RA of the site met us there and after I was discussing the place

with students she pointed out to me a new inscription which translates as: oh Lord please protect the light of Acre(Akka). This is contected to a recent tragic event in Acre in which five people were killed during a pre-mditated explosion of a celular antena which resulted also in the complete destruction of a residential unit in the city. It was intriguing to see the connection made between this sacred site and current events in the region. 

Nimrod Luz

Maqam abu al-HIjja is located in the outskirts of the village Kaukab Abu al-Hijja in the Lower Galilee, Israel