#Hajjselfie, Whatsapp and smartphones – how is technology changing Islam and Muslims?

We’re a funny bunch in how we can change so quickly and then justify how we’ve changed 180 degrees. I remember how up until ten years back, camera phones were banned in Saudi Arabia. And today, the hot topics are #Hajjselfie and how modern technology is making its mark on Saudi society.

The beginning of October was the timing for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. During Hajj Muslims are to abstain from all temptations which may lead to sin; in essence, the pilgrimage is a time for renewal for the two million plus Muslims who take the rite of passage annually.

This year, one of the major stories which broke at Hajj was the #hajjselfie. You’ll probably know of the selfie, a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone and then shared online via social networking services. This year, the selfie was introduced en-mass to Hajj. To quote from Saudi Gazette and AFP.

Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father near the Grand Mosque in Makkah as they grin for a selfie — a craze that has hit this year’s Haj. But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping “selfie”, photographs taken of one’s self, as they carry out Haj rights.

From Tawaf — circumambulating the Holy Kaaba — to prayers atop Mount Mercy in Arafat, and stoning of the “devil” in Mina, the key stages of Haj have all been recorded on cameras and smartphones for posterity, and for instant sharing through social media.

“As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me,” Ali, 24, told AFP, snapping a picture of himself with a green sign reading “Big Jamarah”, which refers to a wall where pilgrims ritually stone the Satan.

“Wherever I go, I take pictures, especially since nowadays we have these little cameras… that offer a full view of the area,” the bearded Kuwaiti said with a smile.

The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among conservatives, however, with some taking to Twitter to criticize pilgrims who take selfies.

“When we went for Umrah in the mid-90s, Dad nearly had his camera confiscated to shouts of ‘haram!’ Now, #HajjSelfie is A Thing. What a world,” wrote one Tweeter.

Another user named Kahwaaa wrote: “It’s a time to connect to Allah and purify my soul. #hajjselfies selfies shouldn’t be taken.”

But others said the issue was being blown out of proportion.

“People creating a huge issue about #hajjselfies. If photos are allowed during Haj then what is wrong with selfies?,” asked Abdul Mufeez Shaheed.

Nothing at all, says Ali’s father Mohammed Ali, 65.

“A person taking such pictures is documenting a rare event”, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many Muslims, he said, wearing a traditional white robe.

“This is a symbolic place representing history,” Mohammed Ali added, pointing to the three sites which pilgrims began stoning on Saturday at the start of the Eid Al-Adha feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

Two women covered in traditional black abayas and veils hurried toward the Big Jamarah wall, but not without stopping for a quick self-portrait along the way.

“My daughter and I are taking selfies to show our Haj pictures to our family in Paris. It’s also a nice memento,” said one of the women, a Saudi pilgrim from Jeddah who gave her name only as Umm Abdallah, 44.

Her daughter Wafaa Ahmed, 19, said: “I love taking many selfies wherever I go to keep them for myself, as well as to show them to my friends and brothers.”

Speaking to AFP by telephone, a professor of Islamic Shariah law Riyadh said that “if photographs are only for personal memory and not for disseminating, then no problem.

“But if they were for the purpose of showing off, then they are prohibited, such as the photography that takes place at the (Haj) rites.”

The scholar requested anonymity.

“It is better for Muslims to avoid them,” he said of selfies.

For the teenage pilgrim Wafaa Ahmed, “this is not a convincing view” because taking selfies “has nothing to do with religion”.

The elderly pilgrim Mohammed Ali also discounts the scholar’s opinion.

He says the camera “is a tool such as mobiles, used even by religious scholars who have not prohibited them, so why prohibit another tool of the modern era?”

As he speaks, a group of young Saudi men gather for a group selfie in front of a Jamarah wall before they stone the “devil”.

Analytics of #Hajjselfie by Topsy. The trend peaked on October the 4th.

Analytics of #Hajjselfie by Topsy. The trend peaked on October the 4th.

The #hajjselfie wasn’t the only social media story coming out of Saudi Arabia this month. A recent piece in Saudi Gazette bemoaned the erosion of traditions surrounding the vacation among Saudi nationals.

“Take for instance the recent Haj holidays where it was common practice to visit relatives but several people did not do so,” said Omar Yousif Tobbal, a senior projects manager in a government firm.

He said that these occasions allow families to spend time together but people are increasingly resorting to calling or texting their relatives to extend their greetings instead of actually visiting them.

“If it hadn’t been for modern technology, families would meet, dress up and generally enjoy themselves,” he said, adding that before the advent of technology, Saudis had more time for each other and talked for hours on common themes of interest. However, there are some who still observe the occasion in accordance with tradition, he noted.

It’s not all for the worse however. One positive which came out of the combination of social media and Hajj this year was the appreciation show to the security teams who were working to ensure the safety of the two million pilgrims through the use of the hashtag #thanks_security_men. This time from Arab News.

Photos and videos of security officers from various military sectors assisting and providing services to pilgrims during the Haj season have been trending across social networking sites, such as Twitter. A number of religious leaders and media personnel have devoted their pages to discussing the positive role of security authorities in Saudi Arabia in the success of this year’s Haj season.

Active users on social networking sites produced various hashtags, notably #thanks_security_men, to express their gratitude and appreciation for their humanitarian efforts and positive representation of Saudi Arabia.

What are your thoughts on the above? Do you think #Hajjselfie is halal or haraam? Let me know your thoughts, especially if you were on Hajj. And have a look over the #hajjselfie images below from BuzzFeed, from what is one of the most amazing spectacles on earth.

One thought on “#Hajjselfie, Whatsapp and smartphones – how is technology changing Islam and Muslims?

  1. Pingback: Review 2014 : When Islam entered some awkward spaces | Beneath The Froth

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