As the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage comes to an end, I’m reminded of this interesting Slate article from earlier this year which reported on research that looked at whether going to Mecca makes Muslims more moderate.
Although Islam has been associated with extremism in recent years, one of the key parts of the Hajj is the wearing of Ihram clothing to emphasise the fact that all people are created equal.
The article discusses a recent study that used a quirk of the distribution of Saudi Arabian visas to Pakistani Muslims. Only some of those who apply will be randomly allocated a visa to attend the Mecca pilgrimage, meaning the researchers could compare the views of those who went with those who didn’t.
Six months after the Hajjis of ’06 returned home to Pakistan, Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer had a survey team track down 1,600 Hajj applicants, half of whom had been selected to go to Mecca and half who hadn’t. The Hajjis were asked questions on topics ranging from religious practices (frequency of prayer and mosque attendance, for example) to women’s issues. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that after a monthlong immersion in communal prayer, the pilgrims were 15 percent more likely to report following mainstream Muslim practices, such as praying five times a day and reciting the Quran. This came at the expense of local Pakistani religious traditions‚ÄîHajjis were 10 percent less likely to follow local rituals like using amulets or visiting the tombs of local saints…
Even more surprising, Hajjis were 25 percent less likely to believe that it was impossible for Muslims of different ethnicities or sects to live together in harmony‚Äîa finding that would seem to be of particular interest for those trying to bring peace to the streets of Baghdad. This greater sense of goodwill among peoples even extended to non-Muslims (who were obviously not represented in Mecca). Hajjis were more likely than non-Hajjis to hold the opinion that people of all religions can live in harmony. Hajjis were also less likely to feel that extreme methods‚Äîsuch as suicide bombings or attacks on civilians‚Äîcould be justified in dealing with disagreements between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The article discusses some of the other findings from the study, including more tolerant views on the place of women in society, which suggests that the Hajj has an effect of increasing pilgrims’ goodwill towards both fellow Muslims and other people in the world.