A study of Hajj pilgrims by Harvard Kennedy School in the US has found that the Hajj promotes tolerance among pilgrims and does not lead to an increase in negative attitude toward the West. The study – entitled “Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering” – said that the annual pilgrimage develops a tolerant attitude among pilgrims toward other religions and cultures.
Researchers, David Clingingsmith, Asim Ijaz Khwaja and Michael Kremer, based their findings, which were published last month, on data collected from a 2006 survey of more than 1,600 Pakistani pilgrims. “Evidence suggests that the Hajj increases tolerance, which seems to apply not just within the Islamic world but also beyond it,” they reported, adding, that increased unity does not lead to antipathy toward non-Muslims.
They also found that the Hajj plays a significant role in the survival of Islam as a unified world religion. “Over time, religions with far-flung adherents tend to evolve separate strands which may eventually break away into different religions. Our analysis suggests that the Hajj reduces dissent and splits in Islam by moving Hajj pilgrims toward a common set of practices, making them more tolerant of differences among Muslims,” they said.
Pilgrims selected for the survey were also more likely to state that various Pakistani ethnic and sectarian groups are equal and that it is possible for such groups to live in harmony.
Major findings include that the Hajj reduces support for political Islam, reduces superstitious beliefs and encourages Muslims to adopt a more favourable attitude toward women, including greater acceptance of women education and employment. “For example, they (Hajj pilgrims) are six percentage points more likely to think women are spiritually better than men, an increase of over 50 per cent. They also express greater concern about women’s quality of life in Pakistan relative to other countries and about crimes against women in Pakistan,” the report stated.
Every year, more than 2.5 million Muslims from nearly 150 countries gather in Makkah to perform the annual pilgrimage of Hajj. Although the Hajj takes place on five specified days, pilgrims often spend a month engaged in prayer in Makkah, Madinah and other holy places.
“Pilgrims mix across the lines of ethnicity, nationality, sect and gender that divide them in everyday life, and affirm a common identity by performing the same rituals and dressing in similar garments that emphasise their equality,” the researchers said. The report added that numerous pilgrim accounts – including that of Malcolm X – lend weight to its findings that the Hajj inspires feelings of unity with the worldwide Muslim community. The report was commissioned after it was felt that the Hajj could have negative implications for non-Muslims.