Snap-a-selfie Haj

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Though the annual Islamic pilgrimage, the Haj, is thousands of years old, something from the new networking age was added to this year’s event which recently concluded – the selfie.

Haj 2014 has taken the title of “The Year of the Selfie”, where pilgrims post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram a digital self-portrait with a cellular device while preforming one of the five pillars of Islam in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Tweeted picture with a caption of “#Hajj2014 with my father while throwing the final Jamarah”

And because the Haj is one of the biggest gatherings in the world where millions of people congregate to pray in Al-Masjid Al-Haram – the Grand Mosque of Mecca – the multitudes of people meant that many, many pilgrims were taking pictures of themselves, especially now that cameras are no longer strictly banned in the Holy Mosque.

Panoramic view of the Kaaba after Maghrib prayer (photo: Essmat El-Kholy)

Some people question whether social networking has distracted pilgrims or diminished the sacred spiritual practice during the Haj. Various scholars believe that pictures are not to be taken during Haj, citing what Prophet Mohamed said: “A pilgrimage that contains no arrogance or showing of[f]”. By taking selfies and videos one is in essence disobeying what the prophet said, the Islamic scholars argue.

Another Haj selfie taken (photo: Reuters)

But the invocation seems not to have affected pilgrims who were using the opportunity take selfies in unique places including the Kaaba, Al-Safa and Al-Marwa Hills, Arafah, Mozdalifa and Mina. These sites enjoy a glorious history in Islam and being at these sacred places, people sought to capture the moment especially since it is not likely they will perform the pilgrimage again.

Family selfie with the Kaaba in the background (photo: Reuters)

Many Muslims are unable to make the trip for financial or health reasons and these pictures, selfies and others, offer a glimpse of what cannot be experienced. It also gives non-Muslims a view into a 1,400-year-old tradition.

Pilgrim taking a selfie in front of the Kaaba (photo: Reuters)

“Photography without a legitimate reason is an issue of dispute among scholars,” scholar Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem said. “However, despite this difference of opinion, there shouldn’t be any dispute when it comes to the real meaning of Haj and the essence behind it.”

Pilgrims praying (photo: Reuters)

Mecca and the Haj have changed drastically over the past decade, so perhaps the selfie trend is just one more new addition to the sacred ritual!