Last Friday’s Slate had an article summarizing a yet-to-be-published study titled, Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering, that examined two groups Muslims from multiple countries. The only difference between the two was that one group had been to the Hajj in Mecca and the other hadn’t:
So does the Hajj open minds, or does it expose Muslims to radical views that unite them against the non-Islamic world? To find out, researchers David Clingingsmith, Asim Khwaja, and Michael Kremer surveyed more than 1,600 Pakistanis, about half of whom went on the Hajj in 2006. In a recent, as yet unpublished study, they report that those who went to Mecca came back with more moderate views on a range of issues, both religious and nonreligious, suggesting that the Hajj may be helpful in curbing the spread of extremism in the Islamic world. [Link]
It might be more conventional for one to assume that Muslims who travel to a country in which the ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam is practiced might come back more conservative (or radicalized). However, the true point of going to the Hajj is the pilgrimage, or the journey there. It therefore makes sense that a journey in which you’d come across people from many walks of life might enlighten a Hajji or make them more accepting of different or more mainstream views.
In 2006, nearly 140,000 applicants vied for 80,000 visas through the Pakistan government’s Hajj program. In order to decide who gets to go, the government holds a lottery. As a result, among the visa applicants, there’s a group of people randomly selected to participate in the Hajj and a comparison group of would-be pilgrims who applied but didn’t get to go. The two groups look very similar–the only systematic difference is that applicants in one group won the lottery and those in the other group didn’t. If the Hajjis come back from Mecca more tolerant than those who didn’t get to go, therefore, we know it’s the result of the Hajj, not something else.
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–Hajjis were 10 percent less likely to follow local rituals like using amulets or visiting the tombs of local saints. [Link]
As the authors point out in their paper, they are simply taking a scientific approach to something others have already perceived:
“There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world…We were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-whiteâ€¦[W]hat I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions” (Malcolm X with Haley, 1965).
Here is a sampling of some of the questions the authors asked the two groups:
We complement the harmony index by exploring the extent to which the Hajj leads to greater inclination towards peace. Hajjis exhibit a 0.11 standard deviation increase in peaceful inclination (Row 4). Questions in the index include views on the correctness of both the goals and methods used by Osama Bin Laden, on suicide bombing and attacking civilian targets, and on the importance of peace with India and support for those fighting the Indian government in Kashmir. We also ask whether it is appropriate to inflict punishment on those who have dishonored the family, to indirectly explore views on honor killings. [Link]
And some of the results:
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–a 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–such as suicide bombings or attacks on civilians–could be justified in dealing with disagreements between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The findings of the study suggest that the Hajj may help to improve the lot of women in Islamic countries as well. Fewer Hajjis thought that men are intellectually superior to women, and a greater fraction expressed a concern for crimes against women in Pakistan. [Link]
The bottom-line here is even more basic than going to the Hajj: Get out and experience the world and mix with different people and we’ll all be better for it.