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Embracing and denouncing the ‘Mecca uniform’ in Nigerian mass media, 1950s–1970s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2022

Sara Katz*
Duke University, Durham, USA


Nigerian Muslims have undertaken the hajj for centuries. As Nigeria approached independence in the 1950s, Muslims began to discuss and debate this practice on a national scale, through Islamic associations and political committees and in the Nigerian press. At the same time, Muslim politicians began to publicly don the ‘Mecca uniform’, the white robe (thawb) and black cord (‘iqāl) common to Saudi Arabia. While Nigerian pilgrims had worn these garments for decades, their conspicuous adoption by the political elite was novel. This sartorial link between politicians and the East was amplified by photographs and commentary circulating nationally in the press, and generated a mix of admiration and concern. Christians (and some Muslims) questioned whether a secular state ought to oversee the hajj. Within roughly a decade, politicians ceased their official use of the Mecca uniform as the press became saturated with exaggerated stories of ‘corrupt’ pilgrims engaged in smuggling and other crimes. The proliferation of other mass media, such as radio and novels, contributed to this critique. This was not the end of the Mecca uniform’s public life, however, as others – such as Yoruba women in the south-west – continued to employ it in self-fashioned public images, including obituary notices. The transformation of the Mecca uniform into an object of national discourse engaging a range of Muslims and also Christians speaks to the complex dynamics shaping Islam in modern Nigeria.



Les musulmans nigérians accomplissent le hadj depuis des siècles. À l’approche de l’indépendance du Nigeria dans les années 1950, les musulmans ont commencé à discuter et à débattre de cette pratique à une échelle nationale à travers des associations et comités politiques islamiques, ainsi que dans la presse nigériane. Au même moment, des politiciens musulmans ont commencé à revêtir l’« uniforme de la Mecque », à savoir une robe blanche (thawb) ceinturée d’un cordon noir (‘iqāl) couramment portée en Arabie Saoudite. Si les pèlerins nigérians portent certes cette tenue depuis des décennies, son adoption par l’élite politique était quant à elle un fait nouveau. Amplifié par la circulation de photos et de commentaires à l’échelle nationale dans la presse, ce lien vestimentaire entre ces politiciens et l’Orient générait un mélange d’admiration et d’inquiétude. Les chrétiens (et certains musulmans) se sont interrogés sur la pertinence, pour un État laïque, de superviser le hadj. Après une dizaine d’années, les politiciens ont cessé d’utiliser officiellement l’uniforme de la Mecque, la presse devenant saturée de récits de pèlerins « corrompus » se livrant à la contrebande et autres délits. La prolifération d’autres médias de masse, comme la radio et les romans, a contribué à cette critique. Ce ne fut cependant pas la fin de vie publique de l’uniforme de la Mecque, d’autres (comme certaines femmes yoruba dans le sud-ouest du pays) ayant continué à l’employer dans des images publiques autoproduites, y compris dans des avis d’obsèques. La transformation de l’uniforme de la Mecque en objet de discours national engageant divers musulmans et des chrétiens témoigne de la dynamique complexe qui façonne l’islam dans le Nigeria moderne.

Islam and Muslim cultures in Nigeria
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the International African Institute

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