New Muslims Pilgrimage

By Experiment: Hajj… A Journey towards Tolerance


Standing at this site of holy veneration with so many fellow Muslims, walking counter-clockwise around the Ka`bah seven times and participating in other Hajj rituals is surely life-altering.

Imagine the power of standing at the geographical and spiritual center of your religious faith, together with millions of fellow believers. How would that experience change your life, your spirituality, your politics and your relationships?

In 2006, David Clingingsmith, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, asked this question in the context of perhaps the most famous religious pilgrimage in the world-the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah, called the Hajj.

Every Muslim, if he or she is physically and financially able, is urged to participate at least once in the Hajj, which consists of a series of rituals commemorating the life and struggles of the biblical Prophet Abraham. The pilgrimage is one of the “Five Pillars of Islam,” crucial religious duties that also include daily prayer, charity, fasting during the Month of Ramadan, and professing Allah as the One True God.

Given that the Hajj is a large-scale religious and community ritual, it is a powerful subject of study. Muslims pray five times each day facing Makkah and the Ka`bah (a black, cube-shaped building at the center of the city’s Masjid Al-Haram Mosque).

Standing at this site of holy veneration with so many fellow Muslims (nearly 3 million attended in 2006), walking counter-clockwise around the Ka`bah seven times and participating in other Hajj rituals is surely life-altering.

But what exactly is its impact? Does it change the way Muslims think about their religion, or even lead to a radicalized form of the faith? In forging unity among Muslims, might the Hajj inspire negative thoughts and opinions of non-Muslims?

These are the questions Clingingsmith asked in his study.

He and colleagues Asim Ijaz Khwaja and Michael Kremer, both professors at Harvard University, interviewed Pakistani Muslims who participated in a random lottery system to secure one of the 150,000 Hajj visas allotted to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia.

Half of those interviewed were granted visas and went on the hajj; the other half were denied and did not attend. Clingingsmith notes that this comparison lets researchers know that they are measuring a “real” effect of the Hajj and not an erroneous correlation.

What Clingingsmith found was that participation in the hajj actually increased both connection within the Muslim community and positive regard for those outside the faith. Among the study’s findings:

– Those returning from the pilgrimage (called hajjis) were 22 percent more likely to declare that people of different religions are equal, as compared with the non-hajji group.

Hajjis were twice as likely as non-hajjis to openly condemn the goals of Osama Bin Laden.

– Male hajjis were 8 percent more likely than non-hajjis to express hope that their daughters and granddaughters would adopt professional careers.

These findings would not surprise anyone who has read the famous hajj account in Malcolm X’s autobiography. “My pilgrimage broadened my scope,” Malcolm X said.

It was in the Holy World that my attitude was changed…by what I witnessed there, in terms of brotherhood…between all men, of all nationalities and complexions.

The results of the survey also could be understood in terms of social identity theory, which says that when you share a positive experience within a group, you are more likely to think positively of others, even members of other groups, Clingingsmith says.

Clingingsmith says his study should comfort the 45 percent of Americans that a 2007 Pew study showed believe that Islam encourages violence more than other religions.

“When you have extremist elements within a religious tradition, you should be careful not to let that color your view of the character of that belief system in a general sense,” he says.

“From the point of view of people who are non-Muslims, the experience that the pilgrims have of going on the Hajj is something we should feel positive about.”


Source: case magazine



New Muslims Pilgrimage

Hajj: Unity Towards the Centre


Close your eyes and visualize what it must be like to see people from countless communities and countries converging on one ‘Centre’ through a thousand and one routes from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

the kabah

The differences of nationality, country and race are obliterated and a universal community of God-worshippers is constituted.

Their faces are different, their colours are different, their languages are different, but on reaching a frontier near the ‘Centre’ all exchange the varied clothes they are wearing for a simple uniform of the same design.

This single, common uniform of ihram distinguishes them as the army of one single King. It becomes the insignia of obedience and service to one Being; all are strung in one cord of loyalty and are marching toward one ‘Capital’ to file past their ‘King’.

Hajj: Universal Community

When these uniformed soldiers move beyond the frontier, the same cry issues forth loudly from their mouths:

labbayka Allahumma labbayk, la sharika laka labbayk”.

(Here am I before You, 0 God, doubly at You service, there is no partner unto You, here am I.)

There languages are different but the words they utter are the same; they have the same meaning.

As the center approaches, the circle containing the pilgrims contracts. Caravans from different countries continue joining each other. All perform their prayers together in one and the same manner.

All are dressed in similar uniforms, all are led by one Imam (leader), all are moving simultaneously, all are now using the same language, all are rising, sitting, bowing down (ruku`) and prostrating themselves (sujud) at one signal of Allahu akbar (God is the Greatest), and all are reciting and listening to one Arabic Qur’an.

In this way the differences of nationality, country and race are obliterated and a universal community of God-worshippers is constituted.

Around the Centre

When these caravans pass on, loudly raising with one voice the call of labbayka, labbayka, when at every ascent and descent the same words resound, when at the time of meeting of caravans these same voices are raised from both sides, and when at the time of every Prayer and at dawn these exclamations reverberate, a unique atmosphere is created whose exhilarating effect makes a man forget his self and become absorbed in the ecstasy of labbayka.

After reaching the Ka`bah comes the act of circumambulation, then the doing of sa`i by all together between Safa and Marwah, then the encampment of all at Mina, then the departure of all towards `Arafah and the listening to their leader’s address, then a night’s sojourn by all at Muzdalifah, then the return of all together towards Mina.

Then comes the throwing of stones in unison by all at jamarat, then the animal sacrifice performed by all, then the return of all together to the Ka`bah for further circumambulation, and then the offering of salah by all together around the center all this carries within itself an effect which has absolutely no parallel.


The article is an excerpt from the author’s “Let Us Be Muslims”.