A very modern phenomenon is sweeping through Islam’s holiest sites. Say ‘hello’ to the generation; #HajjSelfie. Though, could this seemingly harmless act be more harmful than good?

It was in 2014, when nearly 2 million Muslims gathered for the annual pilgrimage for Hajj, that something else beyond the traditional spiritual rites began to emerge.

Young and devout Muslims stood in front of the Great Mosque posting their self-portraits to Twitter. Soon after, the hashtag #HajjSelfie went viral within the hour.

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At first, Saudi authorities and most religious clerics chose to adopt a diplomatic silence on the issue of the inevitable arrival of the smartphone within religious precincts. Though, not long after, they began voicing their concerns. The prohibition did not last very long, as the ban in and around the holy sites was lifted soon after.

Some Saudi scholars stated their concerns that such touristy behaviour goes against the spirit of the holy pilgrimage; arguing that it could be used as a means of ‘humble-bragging’. They argued that photography destroys the tranquillity and humility required for acts of worship and devalues the spiritual experience itself.

According to well-regarded sahabi (companion of the Prophet), when the Prophet Muhammed (s) went for Hajj, he travelled on an old saddle, wearing a cloak that was worth four Dirham or less, where he was reported to have said, “O Allah, a Hajj in which there is no showing off nor reputation sought.”

Melbourne Madinah masjid’s Imam Furqan Jabbar weighed in on his opinion to the discussion stating that Muslims should not be quick to judge others as there might be some merit in the action.

A Muslim pilgrim prays as another takes a photo with his mobile phone at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca. (Reuters)

“I can see the allure of it. People are happy and honoured to be in the house of Allah. They may (just) want to remember the special moment,” encouraged Furqan.

Furqan acknowledges that there are relevant passages in the Quran to consider. For instance, in Surah Ta-Ha (20:17-18) a precious dialogue was documented in detail between the Prophet Moses (a) and Allah.

This majestic moment captured in these verses describes how Prophet Moses (a) spent time enumerating the benefits of the staff so that he is able to prolong the experience of having met Allah.

This staff would later perform the miracle that parted the seas and saved Prophet Moses (s) and his followers as he escaped from the infamous Pharaoh.

“There are some that say, that the purpose of capturing this conversation (in the Quran), was to capture the moment,” illustrated Furqan. 

Certainly, for Muslims, the Hajj is considered to be one of the greatest spiritually uplifting experience. Some may want to remember, share and thereby encourage others to perform the Hajj. 

“Following Islam means to encourage others to follow in the path of Allah. Our religion is there to encourage people to do good and forbid evil. As Muslims, we are encouraged to strive for excellence,” added Furqan. 

“One should keep in mind that the Prophet said that ‘Action is judged on intention’. Because Allah is pure and Allah does not accept any action that is not pure itself,” explained Furqan. 

Indeed, the culture of selfy-taking has become so mainstream within our everyday life. How individual Muslims seek to internalise their spiritual journey may vary between one person to another.  

Furqan elaborates that, “The Hajj experience can be an uplifting (one), but there is some degree of sacrifice and tiredness which comes with it. A lot of the rituals require self-effort and it will test one’s patience, as people of different cultures across the world gather and get transported (in large numbers).”

“Ultimately, (one should remember) although it is a beneficial experience, it is also a time of hardship, sacrifice and patience.”