The Haj selfie: a sign of the times or should phones be left at home?


The selfie – a photograph of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone, and usually shared on social media – has become a fixture of modern life.

However, when the hashtag #Hajjselfie went viral on Twitter last year before the Haj season even started, it sparked outrage among some religious leaders, who warned against the narcissism of taking snaps during the pilgrimage, which is one of Islam’s five pillars and should be performed at least once in a lifetime by all Muslims who can afford it.

Does the Haj selfie go against the spirituality that is a prerequisite for pilgrims, or is it simply a sign of the times? We talk to Muslims from around the world, some of whom have eagerly posed in Mecca for a self-portrait to document the completion of the Haj, and others who stuck to tradition and chose to leave their smartphones at home.

Dana Abusalhieh, Jordanian-Canadian, Lives in Dubai

Abusalhieh, who teaches English as second language, completed the Haj in 2006 and has been on several Umrahs – a non-­mandatory, lesser pilgrimage to Mecca that may be performed at any time of the year. The last of these was in December 2013, and she took several selfies during that trip.

“I have been to Haj long before selfies became a trend. I snapped a few pictures secretly on my Blackberry back then.

“I proudly take selfies when I go to Umrah with my parents now, but I don’t check in and share pictures live on social media. I just share them when the moment is right. Mainly, I think it’s good to share the experience once it’s over, as the time there should be used for spirituality only.

“I think sharing personal photos, selfies or otherwise, with friends who have not yet had the privilege of journeying to Mecca would help make the idea of the trip less intimidating and more inviting.”

Noor Al Khatib, Palestinian-Jordanian, Lives in Dubai

The regional business development manager performed her “seventh or eighth Haj” this year with her mother.

“Personally, I prefer not to take selfies in Haj. I am not a selfie or social-media person – I’m a private person by character. Each moment in Haj is sacred and I would rather reflect and pray.

“On the other hand, my mother, who lives in Jeddah, is a person who likes to take photos and share them with her family in the United States.

“For safety reasons, it’s not safe to use selfie sticks in the Haram. It’s crowded and you can harm people if you use your stick. Also, you can harm yourself while taking a selfie. No one will wait for you to take a selfie. And you can be pushed on the ground while you are smiling for a picture.”

Sabine Lenkeit, German, Lives in Germany

Lenkeit completed her Haj pilgrimage in 2009 and has been on two Umrahs, the first in 2008 and the second in April this year.

“I am not a fan of selfies. In my opinion, it is like showing off. I would never publish my pictures on a social network, because Haj is for Allah and the intention has to be clear. How can I expect to get the reward if my intention is to show off on Facebook?

“Of course, I told my experience to the people around me – the intention here is to motivate them to make this journey, too. But posting selfies is totally different, in my opinion. I can post a picture of the Kaaba, but why do I have to show myself to all those people? I sent some pictures only to my family to let them know that I was fine and happy.”

Rania Wreikat, Jordanian, Lives in Abu Dhabi

The marketing communication manager went on the pilgrimage last year.

“I am very active on social media, which is a great distraction, it is hard for me to resist it. I left my phone behind and chose to be offline during Haj so that I could focus – I only checked Facebook a few times from my mother’s phone to see who had sent me a message asking me to pray for them.

“I did take several pictures during Haj, but I tried not to overdo it as you want to concentrate on the pilgrimage duties and worship. There is also the privacy of other people that you need to take into consideration, since you’re mostly in an extremely crowded place.

“Having the company of my mother, who lives in Jordan, made me want to have the pictures as we aren’t together for most of the year. You also want to document the amazing steps that you completed and the sacredness of the trip – for the memories.

“I did post some selfies on Facebook once I returned home from Haj.”

Noha Safar, Jordanian, Lives in Jeddah

The ESL teacher was in Mecca last year.

“I took a few selfies during the main Haj rituals, such as on Mount Arafat and at the Jamarat [stoning of Satan].

“Not everyone has the opportunity to perform the Haj and I was just so happy to be there, I wanted to remember it, so I took pictures for the memories. Plus last year, there was the selfie trend.

“I think a selfie is the last thing to take away from the religious experience. It only takes a few seconds to do and an additional few seconds to post on Facebook.”

Abdelrahim Syed, Pakistani, Lives in Sharjah

The 37-year-old went on Haj with his mother and wife two years ago.

“I was worried about the ladies when they would stop in the middle of the Haj rituals to take a picture. It is an extremely crowded place and people are constantly moving, so to stop in the middle of all this to take a picture can be dangerous – you might get trampled. I would always tell them to hurry up.

“I understand why they want to take pictures – to record these memories and have tangible proof of this wonderful, sacred place we are in – but you only need one or two pictures for that, not dozens. For me, I took a picture at the very end, when I completed my Haj and was feeling euphoric.”

Mohammed Rashid, Emirati, Lives in Abu Dhabi

The computer engineer completed Haj last year.

“I was very annoyed by all of the people stopping to take selfies. It would really break my concentration when I was praying or trying to let the spirituality overtake me – having to move out of the way of people taking pictures and stopping suddenly to pose. What’s the point of all these pictures? To show off?

“I don’t need pictures to remind myself of the beauty of Haj or how lucky I was to be there, worshipping God as I was meant to do. This selfie thing is really too much these days.”

What the scholars say

Until a few years ago, pilgrims had to hand over their cameras and phones to security before entering the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. Some, of course, managed to sneak them in and take a few photos to commemorate their Haj or Umrah.

These days, authorities have relaxed the rules to allow phones. Professional cameras, however, are still prohibited and selfie sticks are frowned upon.

“There are still those who will admonish pilgrims when there is excessive camera use,” says Rania Wreikat, who performed the Haj pilgrimage last year. Still, it is not uncommon to see people posing by the Kaaba and clicking away.

Last year was dubbed “The Year of the Selfie” after the star-studded selfie taken at the Oscars by host Ellen DeGeneres and when the tag #Hajjselfie went viral on social media before the start of that year’s Haj season. Consequently, some Muslim clerics spoke out against the encroaching trend.

Sheikh Taleb Al Shehi, who oversees the Friday sermons in the new mosque on Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island, says taking selfies should depend on the person’s motivations. “People’s actions are judged according to their intention,” he says. “If their reason for taking this selfie is pure and to remember this holy place they have been lucky to visit, then where is the harm? But if they are being disrespectful to the worshippers around them and spending their entire time taking pictures rather than in prayer and remembrance of God, just to show off where they are, then that is the wrong intention.”

Sheikh Assim Al Hakeem, a popular scholar in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, echoes Al Shehi’s sentiments. “Photography without a legitimate reason is an issue of dispute among scholars,” he says. “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. It is based on sincerity and following the Sunnah. The Prophet, when he went for Haj, he said: ‘O Allah, I ask of you a pilgrimage that contains no boasting or showing off.’ ”

Ali Gomaa, Islamic scholar, jurist and the 18th Grand Mufti of Egypt from 2003 to 2013, once said in an interview on the CBC TV channel: “Those who photograph themselves through selfies with the Holy Kaaba for fun are being disrespectful and it displeases God.”

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About the Author
My name is Mustak Kamboli and it is really a great honour for me to work as a travelling agent for Muslim Pilgrims, who are looking to perform their religious duties such as Umrah and Hajj, by going to Saudi Arabia. I keep track of the latest happenings in Mecca and Medina in order to keep the clients updated through British Hajj Travel

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