The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj has officially begun. Just search #hajj or #hajj2014 and you’ll see proof on social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook in the form of posted updates and photos.
Pilgrims themselves have been contributing to this broadcasting, sometimes with selfies (see here for some good ones and ones featured here), yet many Islamic scholars and clerics are not too happy about it.
Condemning such behavior as “touristy” and calling it “humble-bragging,” they claim that it is muddying understanding of the Hajj and the experience thereof.
For an event that is based upon sincerity – to oneself and to one’s God – uploading photos to personal profile pages online and coming up with a dozen hashtags with which to label each of them do not quite seem right.
One sheikh reported to have seen pilgrims raise their hands in a posture of supplication when they are ready for the picture-taking, and dropping their hands immediately after. Just as people often pretend to be a certain way on social media, are pilgrims pretending to be devout when they take these selfies?
The Hajj is a time for meditation and concentration, with the goal in heart and mind to become closer to God. If pilgrims know that Allah seeks their concentrated worship for the week’s duration, then why are they inclined to share their time with another power that we like to call the Web?
Indeed, it is easy to get “caught up” in activities on the web. It seems unlikely that one can really live “in the moment” when the urge to document and upload selfie media is present. I myself have this problem constantly when I’m traveling. (Do I find my camera and take this breathtaking picture of the sunset now, or do I not? Should I just hold still and enjoy it?) Taking a selfie photo or video cannot freeze time, but it can interrupt it.
I am guessing that the majority of the selfies are taken with smartphones, which itself I think presents a problem. You have probably heard someone you know talk about feeling “lost” without his or her phone.
Technology like social media represents connection with the outside world, whereas spirituality requires deeper internal reflection. During the Hajj, pilgrims can “find” a feeling of security and of being at home in the grace and goodness of God alone.
Until just a few years ago, camera phones were not allowed inside the holy mosques at Mecca during the Hajj, although of course they were sneaked in by some pilgrims. Security is said to have since become more lax with the restriction. Hence, the selfie posts have multiplied.
As a non-Muslim, I have not made the pilgrimage to Mecca, so I have no Hajj photography history to speak of. However, imagining myself now as a pilgrim, I would probably want to take pictures, some with myself included in the frame, to preserve the beauty and significance of the event for my memory and, yes, perhaps to share with family and friends. Remember, for many Muslims, the journey is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Furthermore, snapping a pic can take mere seconds, especially if uploading to social media sites, with all the bells and whistles of captioning and hashtagging, does not occur. People have different concentration levels; a pilgrim may be completely justified in taking a photo if it is at a time when it will not disrupt his prayer and it seems that he will not be distracting others.
Additionally, some pilgrims who are in favor of taking Hajj selfies have raised the point that sharing those photos and videos on social media expresses Islam in a positive light. Instead of sending a message of terror or extremism in the context of Islam, pilgrimage photos can portray the peace and serenity that the age-old religious tradition – and pillar of faith – represents. In such a photo, non-Muslims may see a foreign land but their Muslim friend’s familiar face at the forefront, making the Hajj and Islam overall more relatable.
So, what do you think? Is taking selfies during the Hajj perfectly acceptable, as it can be chalked up to “a sign of the times,” or do you agree with the critics who call it deplorable? Maybe it depends on the circumstances. Feel free to share your thoughts below!
Image #4 above is most retweeted selfie photo from Hajj 2014 on Twitter