Haj Promotes Tolerance, Confirms Harvard Study

Haj Promotes Tolerance, Confirms Harvard Study
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 6 May 2008 — A study of Hajis by Harvard Kennedy School in the US has found that the Haj promotes tolerance among pilgrims and does not lead to an increase in negative attitudes toward the West.

The study — entitled “Estimating the Impact of the Haj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering” — said that the annual pilgrimage develops a tolerant attitude among Hajis 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 Haj 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 Haj 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 Haj reduces dissent and splits in Islam by moving Hajis 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 Haj reduces support for political Islam, reduces superstitious beliefs and encourages Muslims to adopt a more favorable attitude toward women, including greater acceptance of women education and employment. “For example, they (Hajis) are six percentage points more likely to think women are spiritually better than men, an increase of over 50 percent. 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 Haj. Although the Haj 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 emphasize their equality,” the researchers said.

The report added that numerous pilgrim accounts — including that of Malcolm X — lend weight to its findings that the Haj inspires feelings of unity with the worldwide Muslim community.

The report was commissioned after it was felt that the Haj could have negative implications for non-Muslims. This was a concern for colonial authorities, and more recently, after it emerged that some of the 7/7 bombers had undertaken the journey, the British intelligence services began monitoring pilgrims, fearing it might be helping to spread radical views.

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