The Contradictions of Hajj, Through the Lens of a Smartphone

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Kaaba the very first house of God, according to the Holy Quran.

Source: The New York Times


Is it permissible to take a selfie in front of the Kaaba during hajj? With spotty internet, I was unable to Google the answer. Forced to call an audible fatwa, I decided, “Yes, if indeed my intention is pure.”

Fourteen hundred years ago, the Prophet Muhammad and his companions definitely didn’t have to decide between Clarendon and Gingham filters to document the hajj pilgrimage that is recreated by Muslims each year. But then again, they didn’t have Instagram as I did when I went to Mecca to satisfy the pillar of my faith during the last days of August and the beginning of September. They didn’t have access to the air-conditioned tents that I used for shelter. And when they gazed at the Kaaba — the austere black cube that represents God’s house on earth — it certainly wasn’t dwarfed, as it is now, by the enormous luxury hotel and bling-covered clock tower that the Saudi government added to the landscape in 2012.

Awe-struck by the privilege of participating in this tradition while often agitated by the contradictions that surround it today, I made sense of the experience by sharing it — filtering the pilgrimage through the lens of my smartphone.

The most painful aspect of hajj wasn’t the physical toll that came with navigating cramped space with my two million diverse fellow pilgrims, or the intense spiritual concentration. It wasn’t the hiking-induced blisters and chafing. It was witnessing the erasure and razing of my religion’s culture, history and narrative by the House of Saud.

Read more

Suggested reading

Hajj: The Best Symbol for Our Universal Brotherhood!

Hajj and Universal Declaration of Human Rights

3 replies

  1. My haj in 1975 was a ‘short term decision’. I arrived in Jeddah without having made any arrangements for accomodation. At that time we got a ‘guide’ on arrival. When we reached Makkah our guide told us that actually he had only accomodation in one hall for ladies and in one hall for men.(not for a family). It so happened that a friend of the guide was listening to our dilemma. He was a flight engineer from the Saudi Airlines. He said that he would ask his father-in-law, who usually did not take in any Hajis. He was kind enough to offer us a room in an old Makkan house on a hill not all that far from the Mosque. It gave us the ‘real Makkah feeling’. – Many years later we went for Umrah and stayed in Sheraton Hotel. Well, that room could have been in Paris, London or New York. Consequently we remembered out ‘good old haj’ in 1975 …

  2. The Hajj/Mecca has become big business much the same as many other religious and non-religious historic sites, such as the Pyramids, and many others around the world, as well as some more modern venues like Disneyworld. Learning that so many of the old buildings (including, I believe, the birthplace and home of the Prophet Mohammed) have been replaced with new monstrosities is certainly disappointing. Historic buildings and monuments should be cherished, they are what contribute to history. That is why I am also horrified what ISIS are doing in the Middle East, so much destruction of history, not to mention human beings.

    • I have – by the grace of Allah – been to Makkah 5 times, 3 times for Hajj and an additional twice for Umrah. I found for instance food and drink quite cheap and amazingly simply available (considering the numbers of people). I found many people very keen to help that all runs smoothly. OK, this does cost, but such is this world. Regarding Hajj there are different price levels available for different budgets. Yes, I am also no fan of the new clock tower, but this also is just a matter of opinion. Many who are staying in the hotels there appreciate the close-ness to the Mosque. If it would have been built further away there would be different complaints again. – And I am still grateful to the Saudi Man who payed for my meal in a Restaurant, simply because he wanted to obtain Allah’s blessings…

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