Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Unforeseen Benefit of Hajj

Slate has an interesting article detailing the affects Hajj had on Pakistani Hajis. Researchers David Clingingsmith, Asim Khwaja, and Michael Kremer surveyed more than 1,600 Pakistanis, about half of whom went on the Hajj in 2006. The other half applied for visas, but were denied (in the face of literally overwhelming demand, Saudi gives each country a quota of how many Hajjis they can send each year. Pakistan holds a lottery for these visas, and the participants all took place in this lottery). Each group was roughly similar in terms of the distribution of various socio-economic groups, and all were Hajj-minded Pakistanis; the only difference was that some got to go and some didn't.

The researchers found that returning Hajjis expressed more moderate views on a range of issues, both religious and nonreligious (although mostly religious, which is really not that shocking), possibly as a result of seeing so many different peoples united in what they view as a holy and important event.

Some highlights:

- The Pakistani Hajjis were more likely to follow mainstream Muslim practices, such as praying five times a day, and eschew traditional and tribal practices related to religion, such as the veneration of local saints' tombs.

- The Pakistani Hajjis expressed more tolerant views of other Muslims. Just over half of the Pakistanis who didn't go on the Hajj told the survey team that they had a positive view of other Muslim countries. This figure jumped to nearly 70 percent among Hajj survey respondents.

- The Hajjis were 25 percent less likely to believe that it was impossible for Muslims of different ethnicities or sects to live together in harmony

- 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.

- Fewer Hajjis thought that men are intellectually superior to women, and a greater fraction expressed a concern for crimes against women in Pakistan. (The authors hypothesize that this is "because in Mecca, men and women pray together. By contrast, women in Pakistan rarely attend religious services, and when they do, they're relegated to a separate part of the mosque from the men. Familiarity seems to breed tolerance and respect.")

Go Hajj!

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