Critical Commentary

Posted on October 27, 2012 by

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At least once in a lifetime, people of the Muslim faith are expected to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, the sacred city of Islam. Around this time of year, this migration of people takes place – it is happening right now. The fifth pillar in the Islam religion is the annual pilgrimage, hajj, to Mecca prescribed for every Muslim once in a lifetime – provided one can afford it, and provided a person has enough provisions to leave for his family in his absence (RELIGIONFACTS). Those who complete the Hajj are entitled to use the honorific Hajji or Hajjin as a prefix to their name, further emphasizing their common identity. Many Hajjis describe it as the most significant religious event in their lives. Although the Hajj rituals last five days, many pilgrims stay longer. The Hajj induces a shift from localized beliefs and practices toward global Islamic practice, increases tolerance and peaceful inclinations, and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, and this demonstrates that deep-rooted attitudes such as religious beliefs and views about others can be changed and also challenges the view that Islamic orthodoxy and extremism are necessarily linked (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer).

It is proposed by Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer that the Hajj increases tolerance both within the Islamic world and also beyond it. Hajjis return with more positive views toward people from other countries. Hajjis are also more likely to state that various Pakistani ethnic and Muslim sectarian groups are equal, and that it is possible for such groups to live in harmony. These views of equality and harmony extend to non-Muslims as well: Hajjis are 22% more likely to declare that people of different religions are equal and 11% more likely to state that adherents of different religions can live in harmony (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer).

We also find evidence that Hajjis are more peacefully inclined. Hajjis are also more likely to express a preference for peace with India and are 17% more likely to declare that it is incorrect to physically punish someone who has dishonored the family (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer). The feelings of unity and equality brought about by the Hajj extend across gender lines to an extent. Hajjis report more positive views on women’s attributes and abilities. For example, they are 6% more likely to think women are spiritually better than men, an increase of over 50% (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer). They also express greater concern about women’s quality of life in Pakistan relative to other countries and about crimes against women in Pakistan. Hajjis are also more likely to support girls’ education and female participation in the professional workforce. Hajjis also show a fairly large increase in their declared preference for their daughters or granddaughters to adopt professional careers. Male Hajjis show changes in views similar to those of female Hajjis. However, not all views on gender change. In particular, Hajjis are no more likely to question Islamic doctrine, such as unequal inheritance laws across gender, or to express views that potentially challenge male authority within the household, such as the correctness of a woman divorcing her husband (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer).

The Hajj also involves more gender mixing than is typical among the Pakistani pilgrims studied by a group from the University of Harvard. In Pakistan, interaction between men and women who are strangers is uncommon. Women rarely go to the mosque and when they do, they typically pray in a separate area from men. In the pilgrimage to Mecca, Men pray alongside women, both Pakistani and non-Pakistani, during the Hajj. Interviews preformed by Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer revealed that these experiences were both very salient and unusual for Hajjis, and that most viewed them positively.

The Hajj is also physically and financially draining. Pilgrims travel over around 50 miles, much of which by foot, and travelers become more prone to injury and infectious disease due to the close proximity of vast number of people. Hajjis typically also sacrifice rest in order to maximize prayers during their stay. Participants in Pakistan’s Hajj lottery system pay about $2,000 each for the trip, roughly two and one-half times Pakistan’s 2006 per capita GDP (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, Kremer). The median respondent in our survey saved for the Hajj for over four years.

 

Monica Johnson

 

Clingingsmith, Khwaja, Kremer . ESTIMATING THE IMPACT OF THE HAJJ: RELIGION AND TOLERANCE IN ISLAM’S GLOBAL GATHERING. Diss. Harvard, The Quarterly Journal of Economics , 2009. Web. <http://qje.oxfordjournals.org/content/124/3/1133.full.pdf html>.

“Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca .” RELIGIONFACTS. N.p., 17 2004. Web. 26 Oct 2012. <http://www.religionfacts.com/islam/practices/hajj-pilgrimage.htm&gt;.

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Posted in: Islam